The Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz enter tonight’s TNT matchup in a very similar situation.
But the parallels don’t stop there.
The Jazz and the Suns are both entering the season without their high-profile power forwards down low, with Carlos Boozer in Chicago and Amare Stoudemire in New York.
It was clear how much the Suns missed Stoudemire Tuesday night, as they were outrebounded 48-30 and yielded 18 offensive boards to the Blazers. The starting Phoenix frontcourt of Robin Lopez and Hedo Turkoglu combined for 11 points and eight rebounds on 4-for-11 shooting. Stoudemire just about doubled that point total every game, and averaged just under one rebound more.
The Jazz also felt the absence of Boozer against the Nuggets, as no player grabbed double-digit boards and the Utah frontcourt of Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson combined for only 21 points. Jefferson was underwhelming in his Jazz debut, as he faced double team after double team on his way to a six-point, seven-rebound effort.
But regardless of his sub-par debut, Jefferson gives the Jazz toughness on the boards and interior scoring — which are two things that the Suns lack. The Jazz are a matchup nightmare for this Phoenix team that split the four-game regular season series last year.
Steve Nash always struggles to defend a bigger Deron Williams — who averaged 20.5 points and 8.0 assists against the Suns last season — and the discipline of a Jerry Sloan-coached team is the polar opposite of the free-flowing Suns, who are trying to find themselves.
Utah’s flex offense is based off moving without the basketball and curl cuts in the paint. The Suns can’t defend the paint, which is where the problem lies for Phoenix. The Jazz are still finding themselves without Boozer however, so the Suns may not be facing as big of an uphill battle as expected.
The Jazz are also on the tail end of a back-to-back, but they are a different team in EnergySolutions Arena in Utah. And if the Suns will have any chance they need to find a rhythm offensively.
Phoenix lacked an identity offensively against Portland as the game plan became sit back and watch Nash go to work to the tune of 92 points and 19 turnovers. Letting Nash operate wasn’t necessarily a bad idea as he scored 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, despite nine turnovers.
But the two-time MVP needs help from someone not named Jason Richardson, who scored 22 in Portland. Who that third scorer is going to be remains to be seen.
Either Turkoglu, Hill or Lopez needs to ramp up their scoring with the starters, or someone on the bench needs to get hot. Nash and J-Rich can only do so much, meaning someone needs to pick it up or the Suns will start the season 0-2.
But 0-2 could quickly turn into 0-3 or 0-4, as the Suns host the Lakers and Spurs in their next two games. If there’s one game the Suns can win during this brutal four-game stretch to start the season, it’s tonight.
The Suns and the Jazz are still searching for an identity and chemistry, and whoever does so first tonight on TNT will most likely come out on top.