PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns will do something Friday night that thay haven’t done in 23 seasons: They’ll take on the Utah Jazz without Jerry Sloan coaching.
Sloan resigned Thursday amid reports that he and Jazz point guard Deron Williams had clashed at halftime of the team’s Wednesday loss to the Bulls, one of a number of recent disputes.
No player on either team even comes close to having been in the league when Sloan took over in Salt Lake City. In fact, no currently active player was in the league at the time. Accordingly, no NBA player right now knows a league without the longtime Jazz coach.
The Suns will be the Jazz’s first (and second) opponent without Sloan and the coach’s absence could have an effect on the game, but what effect remains uncertain.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said before Thursday’s game with the Golden State Warriors. “I don’t know if they know what to expect. He’s been through two buildings. Just not having him on the sideline is going to be very weird.”
Since Sloan began in Utath, there have been 245 coaching changes in the NBA. Gentry, when one reporter wondered Thursday what team had the most, quickly (and correctly) deadpanned, “The Clippers.” Seven of those changes can be attributed to Gentry.
The first change following his departure was, logically, his replacement by Jazz assistant and former Sun Tyrone Corbin, who was in the running to take over the Suns before Terry Porter was hired.
Many have speculated that with Sloan out the door, Williams will be motivated Friday, as will his teammates, but no one is sure quite what to expect.
“It’s going to be very different but I’m not really worried about what’s happening with them,” Suns forward Channing Frye said Thursday. “They’re either going to be discombobulated or they’re going to be really hyped up, so for us we’ve just got to go out there and play how we’re playing.”
Gentry and the Suns are plenty familiar with this Jazz team. Earlier this season, the Suns beat the Jazz in Utah behind 18 points apiece from Steve Nash and Hakim Warrick.
Gentry said Thursday that the Suns prepare for Utah pretty much the same every time they meet, though that doesn’t always mean much.
“You could go back and get a scouting report from 1990 and it’s basically the same thing,” Gentry said. “Literally you could go back and get a scouting report from when [Jeff] Hornacek, [John] Stockton and [Karl] Malone were there and it’s pretty much the same stuff.”
The Jazz have struggled of late, losing 10 of their last 14 games and going without consecutive wins for nearly a month.
Williams has been struggling mightily as well. He’s shot just 5-of-36 on three-pointers in his last eight games, leading some to believe his wrist is still troubling him.
The Suns, conversely, have been on the rise. Over their last six games, the Suns have held opponents to an average of 90.2 points and have played some of the league’s best defense.
“The last 10 or 12 games, we’ve had teams [shooting] in the 40s and some in the 30s,” Gentry said following Thursday’s game. “If we keep it right there and keep the turnovers down, then I think we’re pretty good.”
After returning to the .500 mark Thursday for the first time since Dec. 19, the Suns look to keep rolling and finish strong before the All-Star break.
“Certainly it will be nice to go there and get a win,” Grant Hill said. “You know, just feel good about ourselves and hopefully be above .500 going into the All-Star break.”
Against the Warriors on Thursday night, Nash regained the NBA’s all-time top career free throw shooting percentage for the third time this season. Going 3-for-3 from the stripe, Nash again overtook Mark Price, who was in attendance as an assistant coach for Golden State.