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Rudy Gobert was bothered.
Just a short while after the final buzzer sounded, the Jazz's third-year center sat at his locker in Portland, Ore., and reflected on a difficult 115-111 loss to the Trail Blazers and how his team, a young squad facing its first real playoff push, would need to respond from it.
"I think every one of us needs to be a little bit more tough," he said. "I'm not saying dirty. But we got to get respected. We know we don't get calls. We never get calls. But even through that we've got to be tougher."
If the Jazz intend on following that advice and toughen up, Tuesday night would be a fine time to start. James Harden and the Houston Rockets come in to Salt Lake City having won the first two games of the season series and holding a half-game edge over the Jazz for eighth place in the West.
It's a game the Jazz can ill afford to lose, especially while they're still smarting after letting another crucial head-to-head matchup with a conference foe slip through their fingers this week. The Jazz held a 13-point lead in the third quarter on Sunday night in Portland, only to fall in the game's final minute.
"There's no mystery for our team about what happened," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after his team had given up 23 offensive rebounds to the Blazers. "It just can't happen again."
"It's another one we can learn from," Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said.
But the Jazz's opportunities to learn are getting fewer and more costly by the day if they are to crack the postseason for the first time since Hayward's rookie season.
"They're important games, there's no question about it," Snyder said. "There are a lot of games left to play, but there's no question our players are aware of the standings, we're aware of the standings."
Right now, the bottom of the Western Conference is a tight race. The ninth-place Jazz are a half game out of the playoff picture and just two games back of sixth-place Dallas.
"It's neck and neck right now," Jazz forward Trevor Booker said.
The Jazz, Rockets, and Blazers all face similar schedules down the stretch when it comes to the number of road games and matchups with teams owning .500 or better records.
And as Portland coach Terry Stotts noted, these head-to-head matchups could have major playoff implications come April.
"The tendency is the closer you get to the end of the season, every game seems a little more important," he said. "If you're playing a team right next to you, it's added importance."
Rockets at Jazz
P Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports