Utah Jazz: Most intriguing individual matchups series – Southwest Division

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SALT LAKE CITY, UT – MAY 6: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets drives to the basket against Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 6, 2018 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Houston Rockets: James Harden vs. Dante Exum

Although Dante Exum doesn’t figure to be a starter for the Utah Jazz, so long as he can stay healthy he should be an absolutely vital piece of the team’s success. Since joining the league, his forte has been defense, and that figures to remain the case in what will hopefully be a bounce-back year for him.

And although Exum’s career has thus far been riddled with injury, one of his brightest moments came in the 2018 NBA Playoffs when he was a crucial defensive force against Houston Rockets star James Harden. Sure, the Rockets still prevailed in the series quite easily and ultimately Exum wouldn’t finish the series due to injury yet again, but in those moments when Dante was available and active, most notably in an incredible road Game 2 victory, he was the best answer Utah had against Harden.

In that game, Exum limited Harden to just two points in the 22 possessions he guarded him. Throughout the series, Dante did far and above the best of any Jazz defender as The Beard shot just 1-of-11 when Exum was his primary defender. The sample size is smaller than Jazz fans would have liked to see, but there’s no denying that those were some insane clamps.

And considering that Harden and the Rockets have been the nearest thing to a Kryptonite that the Jazz have had to face the past two seasons, they’ll certainly need someone to turn to so they can rectify that issue. Perhaps Exum could be that person.

If he remains healthy and mimics that performance defensively of two playoffs ago, his battles against Harden may very well be the best of any individual matchup to watch when Utah and Houston tip off, more than anything because it could be the most important factor for the Jazz’s success.

Scheduled Contests:

  • 1/27 Houston at Utah
  • 2/9 Utah at Houston
  • 2/22 Houston at Utah

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