Wednesday , Nov , 01 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Jazz, Rockets hope to bounce back from disappointing seasons

(Sports Network) – Two teams that missed the playoffs last season meet
for their first contest in the 2006-07 campaign, as the Utah Jazz welcome
the Houston Rockets to the Delta Center.

The Jazz will try and end their three-year playoff drought in the 2006-07
campaign. They finished the 2005-06 season with a 41-41 record and were
outsiders once again from the postseason.

Utah has a solid nucleus with center Mehmet Okur, forwards Carlos Boozer
and Andrei Kirilenko and guard Deron Williams. Okur led the team in scoring
(18.0 ppg) and rebounding (9.1 rpg) last season, while Williams averaged a
team-best 4.5 assists per game in his rookie season.

Kirilenko posted 15.3 points, 8.0 boards and 4.3 assists in 69 contests in
2005-06, while Williams netted 10.8 per game and Boozer contributed 16.3
points and 8.6 boards per contest in just 33 outings.

In the offseason, Utah acquired veteran point guard Derek Fisher in a trade
from the Golden State Warriors. The 32-year-old Fisher averaged a career-best
13.3 points and 4.3 assists for the Warriors last season. He is entering his
11th year in the league and won three championship rings as a member of the
Los Angeles Lakers (2000, 2001, 2002).

Utah also added guards Ronnie Brewer, who was selected out of Arkansas with
the 14th overall pick, and Illinois product Dee Brown, who was picked in the
second round (46th overall), in the 2006 NBA Draft. The 6-7 Brewer has good
size and will get the opportunity to become the Jazz’ shooting guard of the
future.

Head coach Jerry Sloan is on the Utah bench for his 19th season. His
resume is very impressive. Entering the new season, Sloan has the fifth most
wins all-time (984-658), 11th best winning percentage in NBA history (.599
percent), two NBA Finals appearances (1997 and 1998) and five Midwest Division
crowns.

The Jazz were 22-19 at home last season. They will visit the Phoenix Suns on
Saturday at US Airways Center.

All-Stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming missed too many games because of
injuries during the 2005-06 campaign for Houston to qualify for the playoffs,
The Rockets finished a disappointing 34-48, as McGrady missed 35 games and
Yao was sidelined for 25 contests.

Building around McGrady and Yao is still the plan in Houston. McGrady was
hampered by back problems and played in just 47 games. He averaged 24.4
points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists when he was on the court. The 7-6 Yao
contributed 22.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in the 57 contests he
participated in.

Guards Rafer Alston, Luther Head, swingman Bonzi Wells and forwards Shane
Battier and Juwan Howard are the main supporting cast. Alston averaged 12.3
points and a team-best 6.7 assists in 63 games, while Howard netted 11.8 and
pulled down 6.7 boards in 80 contests.

Houston obtained Battier during the offseason from Memphis for athletic rookie
Rudy Gay, who was selected out of Connecticut by the Rockets with the eighth
overall pick, and forward Stromile Swift, who averaged 8.9 points and 4.4
rebounds in 66 contests in his only season with Houston. The 28-year-old
Battier is an excellent defender and will help the Rockers improve
defensively.

The 6-8 Battier averaged 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest last season,
his fifth in the NBA. He was originally drafted out of Duke by the then-
Vancouver Grizzlies in the first round (sixth pick overall) of the 2001 NBA
Draft.

Wells signed with club as a free agent. The 6-5 Wells averaged 13.6 points and
7.7 boards in 52 games for Sacramento last season. He is entering his ninth
season in the league. Wells, who has also played for Portland, Memphis and the
Kings, will get minutes at shooting guard and small forward and will add
scoring off the bench. A very solid pickup for the Rockets.

Head coach Jeff Van Gundy enters his fourth season with the Rockets. The team
has made the playoffs twice under the guidance of Van Gundy, but was
eliminated in the first round twice. The 44-year-old Van Gundy should be
thrilled with acquisition of Battier, as he stresses defense and will have a
strong defender to guard the opponent’s top scorer.

The Rockets were 19-22 on the road last season. They return home on Saturday
to host the Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks.

The Jazz won two of three from Houston last season. The Rockets have lost 16
of their last 18 at Utah.

Houston has won two of its last three season-openers, while the Jazz have
captured three in a row.

HOU UTA