In their first matchup of the regular season, the Utah Jazz (2-1) will take on the Phoenix Suns (3-1) in hopes to stay at the top of the Western Conference standings.
The Jazz have had a very up and down start to the season with a strong showing to begin the season against the Portland Trail Blazers but have looked sluggish and slow on defense after that. Combine that with poor shooting and some questionable shot selection from their two stars, Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic, they lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves and barely beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The good news? Mitchell found a groove late in the game against the Thunder scoring Utah’s final 12 points including the go ahead winner at the end of the game. Utah will need to continue with that momentum against the Phoenix Suns who are playing at a high level.
As mentioned before, it’s been an up and down year for Utah so far but the players that have consistently carried the Jazz this year have been Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley. Proving the value of his contract, Gobert has been a defensive force this season keeping the Jazz in every game they’ve been in. And while Mitchell has struggled with his shooting so far this year, Conley has been fantastic for the Jazz shooting 40% from three and 46% from the field scoring 19 ppg. That production has been essential to Utah who have really struggled to score the last two games.
Meanwhile, Phoenix is looking like the contender many have predicted. Chris Paul has been distributing the ball with 9.5 assists per game and Devin Booker has been his usual self scoring the ball. Although this year his scoring so far has dipped a bit so far. Part of the reason is the Suns’ role players are playing great basketball.
If Utah wants a win against the Suns they can’t come out lackadaisical on defense in the first quarter like they have the past couple games.
When: Thursday, December 31st, 2020 • 7:00 PM MDT
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: NBA TV - AT&T Sportsnet - Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone
What to watch for
Battle of the backcourts
Every time the Jazz take on the Suns it inevitably becomes a battle between Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker and who can lead their team to victory. Last season the Jazz got veteran guard Mike Conley to support Mitchell and the Suns have done that this year for Devin Booker by bringing in Chris Paul.
That already appears to have paid off for the Suns as they’ve started with a 3-1 record and have shown a balanced attack that has seen their whole team step up offensively.
For Utah to win tonight they’ll need Mitchell to find his groove from the bubble playoffs. That may come in more efficient scoring and shooting but they also need it to show up in his playmaking.
So far this season Mitchell is shooting 27% from three and 32% from the field. Those percentages will go up as the season progresses but part of helping those percentages will come from Mitchell improving his shot selection. Mitchell has taken on a larger role with the playmaking for the Jazz offense this year and he needs to trust his teammates more. Mitchell has shown to be an excellent passer and when he makes plays for his teammates he’ll see easier scoring opportunities open up for him. And for Utah to become one of the elite contenders Mitchell needs to average more assists per game otherwise there’s too much variance when Mitchell has bad shooting nights.
Rudy Gobert’s defense ... and offense
Gobert’s defense to start the season has been one of the major reason for the Jazz’s winning record. He’s also been a force on offense creating second chance opportunities, catching lobs and rolling to the rim.
Rudy Gobert tonight— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) December 24, 2020
28 minutes pic.twitter.com/u3L1rg02Tc
For whatever reason Gobert will always be under appreciated but those who watch him on a regular basis know that he is a major part of the Jazz’s winning formula. If he can have a dominant night against the Suns, Utah should be able to win tonight’s game and ring in the new year with a 3-1 record.