Preview: Jazz (44-24) at Suns (42-26)

Suns 110, Jazz 100



PHOENIX — When it comes to the Suns’ battle for playoff seeding and home-court advantage, coach Alvin Gentry said it best.

“We control our own destiny,” Gentry said after practice Thursday. “All we have to do is win our games and we’ll be in great shape.”

Hard to dispute that, but with the Utah Jazz in town, that’s much easier said than done. The Suns are looking to stay alive in the season series with Utah after losing the first two meetings. Should the Suns and Jazz tie in the standings and meet in the playoffs, the winner of the season series gets home court.

The Jazz have been like a bad hangnail for the Suns this season. In their last two meetings, the Suns blew a pair of double-digit leads. The second game was even more embarrassing, as the Suns gave up 41 points in the fourth quarter.

“There’s no way we can win a game if we give up 41 points in the fourth quarter, and we understand that,” Gentry said.

What’s even more surprising about that game was that the Suns shot 57.5 percent to Utah’s 45.8 percent, but simply couldn’t bag a win. Amare Stoudemire also netted 30 points to no avail.

Gentry noted that the Jazz are a very predictable team. Under longtime coach Jerry Sloan, the team hasn’t changed much.

“They do the exact same thing that they did when they had John Stockton and Karl Malone,” Gentry said. “Although you know everything that they’re going to do, they still do a great job executing.”

The Jazz’s physical, methodical style seems to just beat teams into submission, but the Suns’ recent successes on defense and the continued improvement of Robin Lopez should help. After allowing Carlos Boozer to score 21 points and grab 20 rebounds the first time around, the Suns limited him to 15 points and 15 rebounds (as much as you can call a 15-15 “limited”) in the March 4 meeting.

But as with many teams, limiting one player allows another to go off. Utah point guard Deron Williams put up 27 points and nine assists in the early March game. Williams has been a frustrating matchup for Steve Nash, but Captain Canada is not alone in his struggles.

“It’s a tough matchup for any guard that plays [Williams], not just Steve,” Gentry pointed out. “He’s just a really, really good player.”

Williams, who’s averaging 18.4 points and 10.3 assists a game, suffered injuries recently to his shoulder and ankle, but The Arizona Republic‘s Paul Coro reported that he will play against the Suns. He will, however, be without one key piece. Small forward Andrei Kirilenko will sit out the game with a calf strain.

The Suns, on the other hand, are a relatively healthy squad. Nash seems to be doing better with his back and abdomen, although his scoring is still down. We haven’t seen any problems with Goran Dragic’s ankle, and Grant Hill seems fine after banging his head pretty hard Sunday against New Orleans. Leandro Barbosa returned Tuesday against the Timberwolves and said after the game that he was mostly pain free.

Also, Amare Stoudemire has a blister … but I can’t see that stopping STAT from rolling right along. He’s averaging 30.0 points per game over his last six games.

The Suns know that this game is important. Probably more important than others. Maybe one of the most important remaining games. But the team is keeping it in perspective.

“We’ve got a lot of tough games left,” Gentry said. “I still think there are a lot of changes that are going to happen with the standings in the West before it’s all over.”

If the Suns want to be on the right end of those changes, they’ll need to bring home a win against the Jazz.

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