Preview: Utah Jazz (20-21) at Phoenix Suns (19-22)

Phoenix Suns 120, Utah Jazz 111



Surprise, surprise.

It’s just another team caught in the muck surrounding the bottom seeds in the Western Conference playoff race.

With the loss on Monday to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Phoenix Suns find themselves three games back of the eighth playoff seed. In front of them are the Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers and the Utah Jazz, who the Suns face tonight in US Airways Center.

The Suns are tied with the Golden State Warriors at three games behind the current eighth place Houston Rockets, making the fight for that last seed as complicated as six teams.

So it’s safe to say this game has some weight to it.

The good news for Phoenix is Utah’s 5-15 record on the road, which comes in second worst in the conference. In that, we can say it’s a prime opportunity for the Suns to get back on track defensively after giving up 127 points to the Timberwolves on 56.2 percent shooting from the floor.

But as we’ve seen this season, Phoenix has been prone to give up home victories to teams with no business of stealing games in US Airways.

The Jazz could be yet another candidate to do just that. After all, their 15-6 home record is indicative that this isn’t a team severely lacking in talent.

At the core of Utah’s strength are Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who man the paint as the Jazz’s only double-digit scorers at 19.2 and 15.8 points per game, respectively. The duo combines for 18.4 rebounds per game and also have solid PERs of 23.5 and 23.2.

After that, the Utah roster is a matter of distributed duties.

Former All-Star point guard Devin Harris is having a sub-par season to say the least, as his output of 9.9 points and 4.5 assists per game fall below his career averages. Meanwhile, Utah has intriguing young pieces in second-year pros Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, who could be targets for Suns forward Grant Hill to face on the defensive end.

With a pace that ranks 18th in the league, the Jazz aren’t a team that’s likely going to explode for 110 points. The Suns had best take advantage of that to get back on track.

Three keys for Phoenix

Go to Gortat. Marcin Gortat’s performance against the Timberwolves on Monday might have been his worst of the year. He played 20 foul-plagued minutes and missed two key free throws down the stretch. You could tell he was frustrated. The guy puts a lot on himself, and there’s no doubt he’ll come out with some ferocity against the Jazz. If Steve Nash can run some pick-and-rolls with Gortat early, that’ll help his confidence for the entirety of the game.

Guard rebounding. Utah’s interior-focused team means that the Phoenix bigs will have their hands full in the paint. And considering this is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league at 30.6 percent from long range, Phoenix should expect long rebounds if their guards are doubling the post and running out to contest threes. The guards must do their part to rebound the ball after contesting shots and also crash the boards when the Jazz take it down low.

Swing, pump, drive. Defense aside, Phoenix’s offense against Minnesota looked sharp. The ball movement can do some damage against the Jazz if the Suns continue swinging the ball, pumping as defenders run them off the line and driving for mid-range jumpers or kicks back out for three. It’s a simple formula that will put the Suns in good postion to win if their defense finds itself.

And 1

  • The Salt Lake Tribune writes on former Jazz guard and current Sun Ronnie Price playing his old team.

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