There are a few new things about this year’s NBA Playoffs.
There’s no LeBron James, so the NBA Finals will have a distinctly new look for the first time in nine years.
There’s no Tony Parker for the first time in nearly two decades. There’s no Dwyane Wade; he’ll never play a playoff game again.
San Antonio is in the postseason for a record-tying 22nd consecutive season. Brooklyn, Denver, Detroit, Orlando and the Los Angeles Clippers got into these playoffs after watching the postseason from home last year.
What’s not new: the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets meeting in the playoffs. The Rockets defeated the Jazz 4-1 in last year’s second round.
Houston (53-29) is the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, and faces No. 5 seed Utah (50-32) in the first round.
History suggests the Rockets are in trouble.
In each of the last seven seasons, and nine of the last 10, the No. 5 team in the West has beaten the No. 4 team in the first round.
Utah has won each of its last five appearances in a 4-versus-5 series. The fifth-seeded Jazz knocked off Oklahoma City in 2018, the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017 and Denver in 2010. The Jazz were seeded No. 4 when they won a 4-versus-5 series in 2007 and 2008 — both of those coming against Houston.
Season series: Tied 2-2.
Story line: Both teams started slowly, then found their best stride — Houston was 11-14 and went 42-15 from there, Utah was 18-20 and went 32-12 from there. Led by James Harden, the Rockets made more 3-pointers this season than any team in NBA history. The Jazz gave up the second-fewest 3s this season. The way these teams are playing, it’s kind of a shame that they’re meeting in the first round.
Key matchup: Harden vs. Donovan Mitchell. For the second straight season, Mitchell gets matched up against the reigning NBA MVP in Round 1. Last season, it was Russell Westbrook — and the Jazz won that series 4-2 to get into the second round against Harden and these Rockets.
Prediction: Rockets in 7.
All games will air locally on AT&T Sports Network, in addition to national networks indicated below.
Sunday, April 14: at Houston, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)
Wednesday, April 17: at Houston, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)
Saturday, April 20: at Utah, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Monday, April 22: at Utah, 8:30 p.m. (TNT)
x-Wednesday, April 24: at Houston, TBD
x-Friday, April 26: at Utah, TBD
x-Sunday, April 28: at Houston, TBD
x — if necessary