Tonight the Jazz head down to Phoenix for a game between two under .500 teams who rely on veteran guys despite not really being contenders. The Suns are playing 37 year old Steve Nash 32.6 mpg and 39 year old Grant Hill 28.8 mpg. Yes, they're not playing 40 a game, but they are still playing a lot. The Jazz aren't really geriatric, but their main guys this year aren't spring chickens (Big Al Jefferson is 27, and Paul Millsap is 26 -- guys at their peak who aren't All NBA Types). The Jazz appear to have a brighter future than the Suns; but the Suns are shining much brighter right now. Phoenix has won 7 of their last 10 games, which include victories over the Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Wizards, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings (who beat us, remember), Dallas Mavericks, and the Memphis Grizzlies. And they lost two nights ago by 3 points to the T-Wolves. They could easily be 8-2 in the last stretch, and these are wins against teams we have trouble with. I have to give the Suns major props for what they're doing right now.
What's going on with the Suns?
Wil, at Bright Side Of The Sun pointed out why this was, and you should read about it if you haven't already. I haven't researched Phoenix much this year but it's true -- this last little while they have been really good at defense. These aren't the same Suns teams that would win with a stratospheric final score, this is a team that can play on the other side of the ball as well. (Which is something our team has shown a number of lapses in)
Outside of Steve Nash and Grant Hill the Suns really do spread the minutes around. And they spread the shots around too. There are seven different players who take at least 7.0 shots per game on the Suns. And all of them can hit threes, regardless of spot on the floor, height, or traditional position (outside of Marcin Gortat, of course). The point is you have to guard everyone, which taxes a defense in different ways than having to focus on one or two focal points.
While he's not a three point shooting, face-up bigman, Gortat is someone I really love. (And he's the answer to the question when David Locke asks if there are any good 2nd round big centers in the league) He's a double double guy who shoots a high percentage and can catch the ball off of a pick and roll. We don't run that play much anymore with any level of success -- but the Suns can still kill teams with it (thanks to Steve Nash).
As a team they are 15th best in ppg, and 20th best in opponents ppg. Their pace remains 9th best in the league, so they are a mediocre club (bottom half when you look at their Off RTG and Def RTG), but they can still play their style and beat you. They are slightly above .500 at home, but are 1 game behind the Jazz in the standings. With Steve Nash at the helm, and a new found love of defense -- this game becomes infinitely more interesting.
After the Jump -- What's going on with the Jazz
What's going on with the Jazz?
Well, the Jazz are only 5-5 in their last 10 games; but they are coming off a crazy road trip and, well, the Jazz aren't so much for road games. After all, Utah only has 5 road wins this year. And two of them came in the last week. The rest of the month is the pits, so this is really the only 'break' in the schedule the Jazz have. We're going for the playoffs, so this is a must win.
Big Al is playing like a man possessed right now, and we're getting a lot of nice contributions from Devin Harris and Josh Howard. It would mean more to me if a) the three of them were playing well at the beginning of the season and we could have more seriously contended for a playoff spot back then, or if b) if any of those three guys will even be on the team in 3 years when the rest of our young core is getting ready to make a "for reals, this time" playoff push.
Still, don't keep working for tomorrow without looking at the beauty of today. Positivity week is all about smelling the roses, and when you take a big whiff of what the Jazz are doing right now there's no other way to describe it than saying "smells like we should stay the course."
I hope there are no trades in the next 24 hours. And I hope that the Jazz continue playing hard. Tonight is a good test and a measuring stick game. If we win, we know we should be able to hold off the cellar dwellers of our conference. If we lose, then maybe we should be looking into long term development, instead of short term goals that we can't even reach.
Either way, it's win-win for the team -- and gives the franchise more direction / validation.
Go Jazz go!