Six in a row: Three takeaways from Thursday’s 131-114 loss to the Jazz

Jan 5, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) dunks against Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Six in a row: Three takeaways from Thursday’s 131-114 loss to the Jazz

The Rockets have lost six in a row and 10-of-11 after losing to the Jazz 131-114 on Thursday night. Despite the score, the Rockets played better than they did on Wednesday night in New Orleans, even though they trailed by as many as 13 in the first quarter. They battled back to take the lead in the third quarter, but could not overcome a barrage from Lauri Markkanen all night or Ochai Agbaji in the fourth quarter. Jalen Green led the Rockets with 30 points, but he shot just 8-of-24 from the field.

Finnish flamethrower

The Rockets did a decent job against Utah’s leading scorer Lauri Markkanen the first time they played, holding him to 14 points on 7-of-19 shooting. He hit his season average of 24 points the second time he faced the Rockets, but he completely dominated Thursday’s game, scoring a career-high 49 points.

“He wasn’t coming off pick and rolls, he wasn’t setting pick and rolls,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said. “He was coming off catch and shoots, which are very hard to blitz, or he was getting his catch and shoot as a result of drive and kick.”

Markkanen staked the Jazz to a 31-23 lead after one quarter, scoring 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He was limited to just five points in the second quarter but scored a dozen in the third and added another 14 in the fourth for good measure, with the Jazz running plays for him in the game’s final minute to get him to 50. He finished the night shooting 15-of-27 from the field while making all 13 of his free throw attempts.

“The free throws were the biggest part,” Silas said. “It’s always the biggest part. When a guy gets a bunch of points. It’s your ability to be disciplined and not foul him and put him on the line 13 times. That’s usually how it works.”

Jae’Sean Tate returns

After missing the last 32 games with a right ankle injury, Tate returned to action on Thursday and finished with 11 points in 19 minutes off the bench. He played all his first-half minutes in the backcourt, but shared the floor with the rest of the Rockets starters in the fourth quarter.

“It was just good to put on a jersey,” Tate said. “It’s just been a long time since just getting out there with my team, and credit to them for just supporting me through this whole process.”

Tate had appeared in just three games this season after missing a total of six over his first two seasons with the Rockets, and not only has Houston missed his defensive versatility and the stability he brings on offense, the Rockets missed the leadership and intelligence he brings to the floor.

“I’m so glad he’s back because he’s my best friend on the team,” Rockets center Alperen Sengun said. “He’s always helping the team. He’s giving energy. He’s the second captain of the team, so I’m glad he’s back.”

Tate’s return shakes up the rotation

Tate’s return meant someone was going to see their playing time disappear, and that someone was TyTy Washington. Silas subbed Tate in the game with his first wave of substitutions and played him in the backcourt next to Kevin Porter Jr. He then shared the floor with Eric Gordon when Porter left the game.

While Tate has mostly played the 3-through-5 positions since signing with the Rockets, it shouldn’t be a big surprise Silas utilized him in this role. Tate was a guard while at Ohio State and has played some point guard when the Rockets have been in a bind.

“I think we could really get after it defensively,” Silas said. “I think we can rebound. His ability to put pressure on the defense can minimize some of the shooting issues we might have. We got to just make sure we have shooting on the floor with him, but he’s plug and play wherever we need him. Whether it’s the one-man, the five-man, whatever, he’s he has the ability to make an impact.”

Silas made one other tweak to his rotation, though it has nothing to do with Tate’s return: He did not play all three centers, sitting Bruno Fernando while Sengun and Usman Garuba shared the playing time at center.

Next up

The Rockets will host Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night at Toyota Center.

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