Preview: Suns (26-19) at Jazz (25-18)


Jazz 124, Suns 115

PHOENIX — Following an underwhelming homestand that was about as disappointing as a 2-1 stretch can be, the Suns are hitting the road again to face those demons away from the 602.

Having lost 11 of 12 away from home in myriad different ways, Utah’s EnergySolutions Arena isn’t exactly the ideal place to try to snap out of a road slump.

The past few years you have to wonder if the Jazz took their whole team on the road because their home-road splits have been such a contrast. This year is no different as Utah is 17-6 at home but just 8-12 on the road. Last year they were 33-8 at home but 15-26 on the road, and the year before they were a league-best 37-4 at home but just 17-24 away from Utah.

This building certainly did not treat the Suns kindly last year; in fact you can make a case that the Suns were eliminated from the playoff picture for all intents and purposes here last season in a game in which Phoenix took a seven-point lead in the fourth after trailing by 21 only to lose on a botched inbounds play when the Suns should have been shooting free throws to clinch it.

But enough about last year. The Suns have to figure out how to return to November road form, when they stormed out of the gates to an 8-3 mark on the road. Since then, aside from a win in Sacramento that they almost blew, nothing has gone right for the Phoenix Suns on the road.

That’s pretty much a trend across the league, as aside from the Cavs, Celtics and Mavericks, no team is doing a whole lot of winning away from home. Even the vaunted Lakers are just 10-8 on the road (compared to 23-3 at home). Besides Los Angeles and Dallas, only the 12-11 road warriors from Oklahoma City boast a record better than .500 away from home in the West.

Not helping matters is the fact that the Suns will be playing their third game in four nights, with a rematch against the Charlotte Bobcats awaiting them Tuesday back in Phoenix.

Steve Nash felt terrible in an eight-point outing on Friday against Chicago and not much better in Saturday’s win over Golden State, but he’s optimistic that he might regain his pop in Salt Lake City.

“It’s just the ebb and flow, the cyclical nature of playing these games,” Nash said. “Some days for no rhyme or reason you can feel much better on the second day of a back-to-back or the fourth in five nights than you do in the first two, so hopefully I just rebound well physically. It’s just that time of the season I think, tiring days, and you’ve just got to fight through it.”

The Suns as a team are also kind of fighting it. They just aren’t playing with that spirit that marked their 14-3 November. Even when they are winning — such as last week against New Jersey and Golden State — they are doing so unconvincingly, and then they are also blowing games to bad teams, blowing games to good teams and getting blown out.

Maybe the 14-3 Suns were the aberration. But for whatever reason the ball movement just isn’t as crisp, the shooting not as precise and the energy not as bountiful.

“I don’t know what it is,” Nash said. “I think we’re just going through a tough stretch, and we’ve got to find a way to fight through it until we get a little spark back into our game, a little more spirit.”

This is a big one in the standings because the Suns are percentage points behind the Jazz for No. 6 in the West, a conference that boasts just three games of separation between Nos. 4 and 11.

Utah is led by Carlos Boozer (19.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and Deron Williams (18.9 ppg, 9.6 apg), but the Jazz are a balanced unit that features six double-figure scorers and two more averaging at least eight.

All of that plus Utah’s lethal home-court advantage makes this a game the struggling Suns should probably lose.

But will they surprise us all once again?

And 1

  • Come on down to the #SunsTweetup at the Buffalo Wild Wings at Chandler Mall to watch the game with your fellow tweeps. Tyler Lockman and I will be there representing ValleyoftheSuns, and the expected attendee list includes @SJohnson85, @Kreative, @JessRox18, @blum0nkee13, @kitkatflute, @bcampos1, @knot2serious and @JeffHechtAZ. It should be a fun time watching a good game with Suns fans.
  • After leading the NBA in field-goal percentage for much of the year, the Suns now rank third. They sit percentage points behind NBA leaders Utah and Boston after Phoenix shot 43.5 percent Saturday against Golden State and 38.5 percent Friday against Chicago. For the season the Suns shoot 48.6 percent and the Jazz 48.7, so two pretty good shooting teams will be going at it tonight.
  • It’s kind of funny how nobody was even talking about Derrick Rose’s posterization of Goran Dragic a day after the thunderous dunk. I suppose that’s what a career-high 20 points will do for you.
  • A little bit late, but still a fun stat, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau. When Robin Lopez scored a career-high 20 points while his twin Brook went for 26 on Wednesday, they became the first brothers to score 20 points in the same game since Dominique and Gerald Wilkins did it 11 times from 1987 to 1994.