SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder used descriptions like “disjointed” and “out of sync” to describe his team’s play in his first game as an NBA head coach.
The opposite could be said of how the new bench boss’ first opponent played.
Center Dwight Howard scored 22 points with 10 rebounds and small forward Trevor Ariza contributed 20 points to help the Houston Rockets spoil Snyder’s debut as the Jazz coach in a 104-93 victory Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena.
“I think all of us have one goal, and that is to win a championship,” Howard said. “You can see that.”
The Rockets, also boosted by guard James Harden’s 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, improved to 2-0 after pulling away from the youthful Jazz early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s hard to describe a loss as a step forward,” said Snyder, who’s been adamant all preseason that this will be a step-forward-two-steps forward process for the rebuilding Jazz. “Hopefully, we can use it to move forward, take some things from it.”
Alec Burks led Utah with 18 points in his new role as a starting shooting guard. Center Derrick Favors scored 16 with four blocked shots, and guard Trey Burke added 15 points in the Jazz’s season-opening loss.
“They capitalized on the mistakes we made. Credit to them,” Burks said. “We didn’t play a team like that in the preseason. That’s all. They’ve got two talented players, shooters. You’ve got to (take) your hat off to them.”
Better yet, maybe guard them better from outside.
Seven Houston players hit 3-pointers, including four apiece by Ariza and Greek rookie forward Kostas Papanikolaou. The Rockets enjoyed a huge advantage behind the arc over the Jazz, going 14-for-27 from deep compared to 3-18 for the home team.
The Rockets were playing on the road for the second straight night. On Tuesday, Houston beat the Lakers 108-90 at Staples Center and then didn’t arrive at its team hotel in Utah until 3:30 a.m. local time.
It was the younger Jazz, however, who appeared to run out of steam as the game progressed.
“I see a lot of room for improvement, but I like what we’re doing,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We’re up aggressive and stopping the ball defensively.”
Utah came out strong in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,911 fans, eager to see Snyder debut his system with a group of young Jazz guys who average just 24 years of age. Utah, coming off of a rough 25-57 season under since-departed coach Tyrone Corbin, took a 40-34 lead after Burks hit a pair of free throws midway through the second quarter.
The more-experienced Rockets seized momentum heading in the locker room. Harden sparked an 8-0 run at the end of the second quarter with a jumper and a 3-pointer, breaking a tie and giving the visitors a 58-50 edge at the break.
Burks hit a jumper to bring the Jazz within three with 10 minutes remaining.
Houston responded and regained a double-digit lead with a 10-0 run, which included two Harden free throws along with 3-pointers from forward Terrence Jones and Ariza.
The Rockets built their lead to 16 after that, and Utah could never muster a comeback.
“We climbed out of (our hole). It’s just one of those things where they hit a couple of threes and those are daggers,” Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward said. “And all of sudden we’re back down to 10 and momentum shifted right back their way.”
Hayward, who signed a four-year, $63 million contract with the Jazz this offseason, finished with eight points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Forward Trevor Booker, an offseason signing from Washington, led Utah off the bench with 14 points.
Jazz rookies Dante Exum, a point guard taken fifth overall, and swingman Rodney Hood, the No. 23 selection, both made their debuts. Both players scored five points.
Papanikalaou finished with 12 points.
NOTES: Adam Silver attended a Jazz game for the first time since replacing David Stern as NBA commissioner. Silver joked that it was no coincidence that he was in Utah to see fellow Duke alumnus Quin Snyder make his NBA head-coaching debut with the Jazz. … Enes Kanter and the Jazz mutually agreed to end negotiations toward an extension of his rookie contract, meaning the forward will be a restricted free agent next offseason. SG Alec Burks and Utah have until Friday night (midnight ET) to work out a deal. … Utah claimed SF Jordan Hamilton, who spent the 2013-14 season with Houston, and SF Joe Ingles off of waivers this week. … Houston makes its home debut Saturday against the Boston Celtics.
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