Fanster.com has its “Mavericks FAIL” campaign and I always reference how far the Suns are behind Dallas, but nobody ever talks about the Suns catching sixth-place Utah or seventh-place Portland.
The Jazz enter tonight’s showdown in US Airways a healthy five games up on the Suns with 12 to play, but Utah also faces one of the toughest closing schedules I’ve ever seen.
Whereas the Suns play the third-easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way (.442 opponent winning percentage, six tough games), Utah plays the fifth toughest including last night’s win over the Rockets at .537.
More than the winning percentages I would look at the fact that the Jazz must still play eight more games against Western Conference playoff contenders, including contests at Portland, Denver, New Orleans, Dallas, San Antonio and the Lakers after tonight’s tilt in Phoenix. Houston’s building must be booked or something because the Jazz will visit every other West playoff contender in the coming weeks.
Although Utah’s 30-6 home record is bettered only by the Lakers in the West, their 14-20 road record is bettered by every playoff contender in the West, even the Suns. Worse than that, the Jazz are just 1-13 in road games against teams that currently have a winning record, recording their only victory all the way back on Nov. 11 in Philly when the Sixers weren’t playing like a winning team.
If Phoenix can pick up two games against the Jazz head to head this week and thereby take the tiebreaker, at that point the Suns would have three more tough games left (one at home) whereby Utah would still have six visits to Western Conference playoff teams on the docket.
At that point I would say the Suns would be odds-on favorites to finish ahead of Utah.
Of course, beating Utah twice is way easier said than done, particularly Saturday’s game at EnergySolutions Arena. Not only are the Jazz a great home team but the Suns will first have to squeeze in a trip to Portland whereas Utah will be off until then.
One Utah win would almost certainly give the Jazz the tiebreaker due to a much beefier conference record, and making up six games in the final weeks against a team as good as Utah would be almost impossible. It certainly better start tonight, especially since Utah is just 3-13 on the second game of a back to back.
The point of all of this is if the Suns sweep the Jazz and beat the Mavs on April 5 along with taking care of the bad teams and maybe winning their home game against Houston, it’s more than possible that Phoenix would sneak into the playoffs without even opposing the Lakers.
Then again, a loss to Utah tonight makes all of that a moot point and would make it that much tougher to catch the Mavs.
Think this is a big game or what?
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said the Suns would start with Shaq on Carlos Boozer and Matt Barnes on Mehmet Okur so that Shaq won’t have to chase Okur around the perimeter.
He also said he doesn’t expect the Jazz to be affected by playing a back to back despite their porous record in the back ends of such situations because players who don’t play with effort for Utah head coach Jerry Sloan won’t be on the floor long anyway.