The whole Utah Jazz fan base is breathing a sigh of relief that there’s a basketball game today. Over the last 48 controversy filled hours that have engulfed Utah for conduct off a basketball court, it’s a welcome sight to see a game again. The Utah Jazz will be leaving the currently mired Vivint Arena as they take on the Phoenix Suns in Arizona. While the standings would have you believe that this game should be a cake walk for Utah, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Phoenix Suns are arguable in the midst of their best stretch of basketball. They are 5-2 over their last seven games with wins over the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors. Meanwhile, Utah is in one of their most disappointing stretches of the season as they are 1-4 over their last 5 games. The disappoint comes from how many expected Utah to be bulldozing what outsiders see as an easy schedule.
Over the last 5 games Utah has the 9th worst offensive rating, 10th best defensive rating, 7th worst defensive rebounding percentage, and 4th worst turnover percentage. They have been dreadful, and the eye test doesn’t lie either. The Jazz have carefully avoided opening up the playbook for Donovan at point guard as they have rightfully assumed they’d have healthy point guards returning at some point this season. Luckily, that some point is tonight as Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto are all a go for tonight’s game. It’s the first time all of them are healthy since January.
Kudos to Donovan Mitchell who has been Utah’s only offense during this stretch, but is obviously seeing the signs of wearing down. Over the last 5 games, Donovan Mitchell has been averaging 30.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.0 blocks. Unfortunately, one man does not a team make. The addition of Ricky Rubio to the starting lineup and Dante Exum to bench should allow Utah to have additional playmakers and allow Donovan and the rest of this team to reset to their normal roles, get a break, and do what they do best.
Not to be outdone, Devin Booker has been on his own tear. He has averaged 29.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.6 steals in this last 5 games on shooting splits of 49/38/100(!!!). Utah has the healthy bodies to throw at him and slow him down on the perimeter.
Team leaders over the last seven:
Devin Booker is averaging 27.7 points, 6.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals
Kelly Oubre Jr. is second on the team in scoring at 19 per game, plus 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals
Deandre Ayton rounds out the top three scorers with 17.7 points, 9 rebounds and 1.6 assists
New point guard Tyler Johnson is delivering with 11.1 points and 4.9 assists against less than one turnover
Mikal Bridges is scoring 8.9 points on 57 percent shooting, plus 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals
This young Suns team seems to be figuring it out. It reminds me of the Kings at the end of last season. You could tell that they were playing hard and starting to figure out that they were extremely talented. Utah has got to go into this game ready to brawl because the Suns—coached by Jazz alum Igor Kokoskov—are becoming self-aware.
When: Wednesday, March 11, 2019 8:00PM MT
Where: Talking Stick Arena • Phoenix, AZ
TV: AT&T Sports Net – Rocky Mountain, Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone
Ricky Rubio — Hip — Probable
Raul Neto — Hamstring — Probable
Tony Bradley — Knee — OUT
T.J. Warren — Ankle — Day to Day
The Return of Ricky Rubio (and point guards)
Dante Exum made his rusty return against a VERY good Oklahoma City team on Monday and Rubio is going to get a much easier introduction back to the floor in Phoenix. Phoenix is still playing well, but the starting point guard for Phoenix is no Russell Westbrook. It’s Tyler Johnson. This will be a great game for Rubio and Exum to get their sea legs back underneath them, and get in the rhythm of the Jazz offense.
We should expect Donovan Mitchell to still have to do some heavy lifting, but this game will definitely be a work in progress. The hope will be that by the end of the game, Utah will be back in rhythm. Expect other players adjusting back to their non playmaking roles (Korver, O’Neale, Crowder) to go through similar adjustments as they are not needed to control the ball as long on offense or create for themselves.
The Stifle Tower has not been as Stifling lately. Utah’s allowing the 8th most amount of points in the paint over their last 5 games which is not typical of a Rudy Gobert anchored defensive unit. Part of that could be bigger defenders like Joe Ingles and Korver not being able to stay in front of more agile guards as they filled in for Utah’s hurt point guard corps. With point guards back and healthy, that should make life easier for Utah’s big men.
The big bodied DeAndre Ayton should have a rough game against the more seasoned Rudy Gobert and with all of Utah’s depth back, Utah should be able to make life difficult for Phoenix’s shooters on the perimeter.
It’d be good to see the return of the Stifle Tower tonight in Arizona.