Game 55: Phoenix Suns (27-26, Road: 11-15) @ Utah Jazz (28-26, Home: 19-7)
Must win game #2 of the month!
Tonight the Jazz face another "must-win" game, this time at home against the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix and Utah are both 6-4 in their last 10 games, and both are aiming for the playoffs -- but on the outside looking in right now. The Jazz are 1 game behind the (current) #8 seed Houston Rockets, and the Suns are 1.5 games behind. The half game difference can turn into a more comfortable margin (of sorts) with a Jazz victory tonight; or flip entirely with a Suns win. The last time these two teams played, well, we got to see a whole lot of vintage Steve Nash making his teammates so much better. The Suns won 120-111 and Nash only took 4 total shots, yet still finished with 12 points (8/8 from the line) and 16 assists. Wow. If the Jazz are going to win tonight they just can't let the no-name guys kill us again. In that game Channing Frye had 26 points, Marcin Gortat had 25, and Jared Dudley had 21. Of course, they aren't real "no-name" guys, but they aren't stars. When they produce like stars that just shows you how great Steve Nash is.
After the jump -- what's going on with the Suns and Jazz!
What's going on with the Phoenix Suns?
The Phoenix Suns are playing with the focus and desperation of a contender with an ever closing window of opportunity. Steve Nash is a future Hall of Famer, no doubt, but to validate not trading him they need to make the playoffs. The Suns have a slew of road games up ahead (@UTA @DEN @MIN @MEM @HOU @SAS) so if they were ever to fall out of the playoff race it would be now. The litmus test for them has to be these lower order Western clubs. They lost to the Spurs and Clippers (top 4 in the West), and beat up on the Hornets and Kings recently. Phoenix is going to try to stay hot (they at one point had won 9 of their first 11 games in March) this month. In order to do that they need to win tonight against our Jazz.
Steve Nash is the man, I'm not going to go into it. We know this. He killed us last game and didn't even look to shoot the ball. Their pick and roll / pick and pop attack is great. Gortat has good hands and can finish inside. Guys like Frye can hit deep shots. And they have a lot of versatility among their players. They will be without Grant Hill tonight (thankfully), and Markieff Morris has flu-like symptoms, but played in their last game. We're not going to be lucky enough to face a banged up Suns team -- but we're just as likely to lose to an injured team as we are to beat one.
Phoenix has slowed things down a bit from their 7 seconds days, they are only #9 in pace right now. The bigger change is that they're not all offense / no defense. Those teams are still the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings -- two teams we have trouble with already. The Suns still have a solid offense (Top half of the league), but it's their improved defense which is what makes them special.
In their last 22 games the other team has scored 100 points or less 13 times. That's better than the Jazz defense of late. I don't take the Suns lightly. We face them twice more this season -- and each game is going to be a war.
What's going on with the Utah Jazz?
The Jazz ended a 6 game win streak with 4 losses in 5 games. And they picked things up again with a win in Portland -- hopefully this is the start of some more wins in a row. The Jazz seem to thrive on cumulative streaks. If the going is good, they play even better. If the going is bad, they seem to play worse than they should. On Monday the Jazz got a win in a very hard place -- in a must win game. Major props to them for pulling it out as Paul Millsap had one of this Thrillsap types of games. As much as I am a proponent of our youth, this team is only going to make the playoffs if our "Big Three" of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Devin Harris produce.
Speaking of production, Al Jefferson has to dominate Gortat tonight. Last time they played Gortat owned him, and Jefferson only shot 44 fg%. Gortat even went to the line 10 times, and Big Al only 2. If your primary Go-to-guy is a big, he has to draw fouls. This is a valid point of criticism for Jefferson. I hope he starts drawing them more. It will only help the team. (See: Atlanta game where Zaza owned us in the OTs because he could be so aggressive w/o fear of fouling out because in the 4 quarters before he only had like 2 fouls)
How the Jazz play defense is going to be key. No Josh Howard and Raja Bell -- and no possibly no Devin Harris. This game isn't going to come easy for the Jazz. I'd like to see some more Hayward and Burks on defensive assignments they wouldn't normally get. It's not going to hurt if you look at how poorly the vets defended in the last Jazz/Suns game.
This is another must win. The Jazz must win these games at home. And they must beat the other teams looking for the playoffs. The Jazz needed 9 wins this month to make the playoffs. They got one on Monday. This should be one of the 8 more wins they get.