Phoenix Suns opponent analysis: The Utah Jazz

While “controlling their own destiny” can most definitely be said for the Phoenix Suns, who could win their final two regular season games to make the playoffs, I cringe at using the phrase.

You know, because when the Suns (33-31) face the Jazz (34-30) in Salt Lake City at 7:30 MST tonight, Utah is in the same cockpit. Heck, you could even call the Phoenix the co-pilot in this one.

In the end, it’s who exerts control of the game who will find themselves in sound position to face the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

Here’s what the Suns are facing in EnergySolutions Arena, one of the more rowdy crowds in the NBA and the home to a Jazz team that’s 23-8 while playing there.

The lowdown

Utah Jazz

Points per game: 99.7 (fourth in the NBA)

Rebounding: 43.9 (fifth in the NBA)

Opponent points per game: 99.3 (24th in the NBA)


Season series: Phoenix holds a 2-0 record with wins of 120-111 and 107-105

On March 14, the Suns survived 64 Utah paint points but needed Marcin Gortat (25), Channing Frye (26, a season high) and Jared Dudley (21) to score in the 20s to top the Jazz at home. In Utah on April 4, Phoenix led a balanced attack of seven double-digit scorers and needed 19 bench points from Michael Redd to dispatch the Jazz, who were without point guard Devin Harris.

While Gentry and crew won’t take their past history too far — the Suns have won the last seven games in the series — Dudley acknowledged it helps with confidence.

“We’ve won there last year, won there this year,” he said. “For a confidence feeling, we definitely know we’re capable.”

What’s the beef?

The Jazz offense begins and ends with its men up front.

Center Al Jefferson was named the Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday after he averaged 20 points and 15.3 rebounds per game in the prior seven days. Jefferson’s wingman, Paul Millsap, will start at the power forward slot, but he’s also been sliding to the three spot to play alongside youngster Derrick Favors and the bench unit.

While Gortat and Frye have matched the Jazz’s interior players’ offensive production in two games this season, the potential absence of Frye to a subluxed right shoulder combined with Favors’ bench presence gives Utah a sharper advantage in tonight’s game.

If Frye can’t go, the Jazz will have more reason to keep two bigs in the paint on the defensive end. Even so, they have been keying on fixing their pick-and-roll defense as to avoid being burned by stretch fours like Frye.

“Yeah, we’re changing up a little on how we want to guard things,” Gordon Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We’ve done it more towards who we’re playing instead of ‘This is what we always do.’ I think it’s helped out a little bit, especially when you go up against 4s who can stretch the floor. Teams like that are really difficult to guard, because you’ve got four guys who can basically shoot 3s and a guy rolling down the middle.”

Don’t forget the guards

While it’s the Utah frontline that might get the headlines, make no mistake about how good Devin Harris has been. The often-banged-up point guard gave the Suns a break by missing the two squads’ last meeting, but he’s averaged 19 points and six assists per game in the nine games since.

“Everyone’s got to remember that when he was with Dallas, he was a pretty doggone good player,” Gentry said Monday. “People even talked about him being an All-Star in that situation. I think it’s a matter of being healthy.”

Based on Harris’ comments to the Salt Lake Tribune about how to stop Nash — you can’t — his strategy is to be aggressive and make Nash work on the defensive end. Josh Howard also told the Tribune this interesting tidbit about defending a Nash-led offense.

“The most success I ever had as far as stopping them was letting two guys in the pick-and-roll deal with it and not letting other guys beat you,” Howard said. “Nash is a great player. But you don’t want him to have 28 points and 20 assists. If we can cut down one of the things, I think our chances of winning are a whole lot better.”

Harris has a solid backup in Jamaal Tinsley, and in the starting lineup runs alongside Gordon Hayward, the second-year pro who Gentry said might be the key player for the Jazz.

Who’s in, who’s out?

Backup point guard Earl Watson and forward C.J. Miles won’t play due to injury, while former Sun Raja Bell and wing Josh Howard went through a full practice on Monday and could return to the Utah lineup against Phoenix, according to the Deseret News. Both are rehabbing from knee problems.

  • bob brogger

    Just thinking….what do you think of the chances of the Suns getting Harden from the Thunder or Jonah Hill from the Lakers?

    • Michael Schwartz

      I don’t think anyone should want to see Jonah Hill play basketball, but Jordan Hill could be a solid sleeper pickup. I covered him for a few years at UA and so did Zim, and I still think he has another level to reach in his NBA career.

      Harden would obviously be a fantastic add, but I just don’t see any way OKC lets him go. They will open up the vault for him IMO.

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    I’d actually think Hill could be a good pick-up to fill the back-up center role. Was just reading an LA Times piece about how Mike Brown liked his P/R defense. Unless he goes ballistic from here on out, he probably won’t be getting overpaid (though, people love overpaying for centers).

    And I agree with Schwartz about Harden. Would obviously be a huge get, but the Suns would have major competition when he becomes a free agent. IMO, if the Thunder focus on keeping their big three intact and fill in the holes from there, they’re set for a long time.

  • bob brogger

    Thanks. Any info on whether Frye and Hill playing tonight?

  • JZ

    LOL Jonah Hill at the next Celebrity All-Star Game would be a treat to watch. I am going to stay away from basketball for the day and check the game outcome tomorrow morning. Can’t bear to witness a possible heartbreak. Utah will probably come out pumped ready to take the last spot that’s on the line. Millsap and Jefferson…those guys will be the factors for this game.

  • grover

    OKC needs to make decisions soon on both Harden and Ibaka as it would be difficult for them to retain both and fit under the cap. Most likely is they retain Harden, but that makes it very difficult to keep Ibaka. I’m sure there are plenty of teams out there who would love to see a bidding war erupt over either or both players to help break up OKC’s young core. If not OKC could stay at the top for quite some time.

    I’d take Harden or Ibaka on the Suns, but I’m sure there are 29 other teams who’d say the same thing.

  • Rob

    Sorry for looking past this game, but if Suns win, they still must defeat the Spurs tomorrow night (assuming the Jazz will defeat the Blazers).

    Is it a near certainty that the Spurs will rest their key players against the Suns? Would they rather play the Suns or Jazz? Will the Spurs play their guys in order to prevent facing Phoenix in the first round?

    Just interested in hearing some thoughts on this today, just in case the point becomes moot from a Suns L tonight. (i knocked on wood–so no jinxes)

  • GoSuns

    I think the suns should look into j.r. Smith, however I hope we get a win tonight Go suns!

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    Bob, Hill is again gametime but Paul Coro tweeted that Frye is indeed flying to Utah. Chances are slim he’ll play, but him being there is surprising to me.

    And Rob, it’s hard to say what SA will do, but they’re a lock for the No. 1 spot and only have two games left. They’ll have two days rest, and could rest the starters the final game. If Pop really thinks they need more than the final game’s rest, I’m betting he goes with what his team needs rather than consider who the Spurs are playing in the first round. Plus, I think the Suns are an easier match-up for them.