Houston • A break in the NBA playoff schedule can give players time to do something they haven’t done all season.
Several Jazz players ventured out to Minute Maid Park on Monday night, watching the Houston Astros take on the New York Yankees in near-perfect baseball conditions: temperatures in the 70s, with a slight breeze rolling through the stadium.
Donovan Mitchell in particular relished the opportunity to reconnect with his childhood pastime, shifting from his club-level suite along with teammates Royce O’Neale and David Stockton to seats directly behind home plate. A one-time baseball prospect whose father worked for the New York Mets, it was a rare moment for the 21-year-old Jazz rookie to let himself be a fan.
“I’m a big baseball guy,” he said. ’“It was cool to see those guys up close. I haven’t been able to see any games as a fan for a long time.”
The Astros won 2-1, and Mitchell marveled at the pitching of Houston starter Charlie Morton, who struck out 10 batters.
Rockets star James Harden also attended, waving from a private suite when the jumbotron camera zoomed in on him.
Mitchell, whose celebrity seemingly snowballs by the hour, recognizes it’s probably only a matter of time before his own fame might keep him from enjoying a game in the crowd with the rest of the ticket-buying public. He watched the game alongside a Jazz security official on Monday night, but he was still relatively anonymous.
“Just enjoying the little things for right now,” he said. “I always looked up to these baseball players like, ‘Man, they’re in the majors.’ But when I look at it, I’m in the major league of my sport. That stuff hits you and it’s kind of surreal.”
The Houston Rockets are expecting a bigger fight from the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
At the very least, Houston is expecting a more rested team.
The Rockets thought they played well in Sunday’s Game 1 win over Utah. But they also knew they caught a fatigued Jazz team.
“They were coming off an emotional and tough series,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “So, we know that they are going to be better with some rest and preparation.”
That’s why D’Antoni said he wants to see his team play a more complete game on Wednesday night. He loved the first half, in which the Rockets built close to a 30- point advantage. But, after reviewing film on Tuesday morning before practice, D’Antoni said he noticed a lapse in the second half, when the Jazz trimmed the deficit to 11 points.
“I definitely thought we played better in the first half,” D’Antoni said. “I’d like to see us play much better for an entire game.”
Rockets forward Trevor Ariza was asked what it would be like trying to stay in front of Harden. The defensive ace laughed. But, then he came up with a plan.
“I don’t know, but I’ll figure out a way to slow him down,” Ariza said. “I’m glad I don’t have that problem right now. I wouldn’t tell [the Jazz] what I think.”