Preview: Utah Jazz (16-17) at Phoenix Suns (12-21)

Utah Jazz 87, Phoenix Suns 80





PHOENIX — Veteran Luis Scola spent no time reveling in the Phoenix Suns’ win against Philadelphia that broke a six-game losing streak. He was glad the Suns had shown they were capable of fixing a number of issues, but until those lessons become more than a short-term memory, he warned that Phoenix will see more losses than wins.

And ever the optimist, head coach Alvin Gentry said there was a lot of belief to lean on – Phoenix has played in an NBA-leading nine games that have been decided by three points or fewer.

“We don’t have anything tangible to show for that,” Gentry said of the team’s crunch-time problems before the win against the Sixers. “I like the shots that we’re getting. That’s the thing that’s most discouraging.”

The Suns are 4-6 in their last 10 games — though they lost those six in a row — and on Friday night host a struggling Utah Jazz (16-17) team that has gone 3-7 over its last 10. The four-game difference between the two teams? Their road records, which is 6-13 for Utah and 2-14 for Phoenix. Both teams have 10 wins at home.

And maybe that’s simply because the Suns are, though not in age, young in experience. Scola’s warning after the latest win is one that could be mailed out to most youthful teams, and whether his teammates are listening could become evident in the friendly confines of U.S. Airways Center against Utah.

Phoenix beat Utah on Dec. 14 thanks to a spirited performance from center Marcin Gortat, who had the edge against Jazz center Al Jefferson. He even took a friendly jab at his opponent, commenting on how “Big Al”, as he called him, couldn’t run with him for an entire game.

For Gortat and the Suns, consistency will be tested as Utah attempts to break out of a slump.

Three keys for the Suns

Attack with Goran Dragic. Against Philly’s Jrue Holiday, Dragic looked like he took a matchup with a talented point guard as a time to showcase his competitive toughness. The two went at one another, and it was easy to say Dragic won the battle despite Holiday posting a triple-double. Phoenix hasn’t seen that same aggressiveness from Dragic in every game. The same type of play could be huge against old man Jamaal Tinsley, who is recognizing that he needs to make the hockey assists because of his age, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Tinsley is starting for Mo Williams, who will be out for a while recovering from thumb surgery.

Exploit the mismatches. The Jazz are one of the few teams that Phoenix can beat up and down the floor, even if they go with a big lineup, and getting in transition during the first half is especially important for Gortat to wear on Jefferson. While that could hurt Scola’s activity, he’s shown that he’s more of a scorer in spurts anyway. And depending on the Suns’ starting lineup, there are a number of mismatches to take advantage of, especially in the backcourt.

Get O’Neal going. Jermaine O’Neal will likely get some solid minutes against the Jazz, who will have at least three legitimate big men available (backup center Enes Kanter was doubtful as of yesterday). He’s struggled of late with frustrating turnovers, mostly. The Suns must put O’Neal in a position to at the very least stick on the court for defensive purposes. And if they continue to run the offense through him in the post, it’s imperative for Phoenix that O’Neal takes care of the ball.

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