Let's be real here. Tonight the Utah Jazz are set to thrown down against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns are one of the few franchises out there to have a winning record against the Jazz, they are 90-78 all-time on Utah. Furthermore, the Jazz have played a lot of games in Phoenix over the years (83), but have won only 24 times there (28.92 win%). Historically you can't just expect to come out of there with a win, even if they play in the same time zone. Secondly, Phoenix is super desperate right now having lost five games in a row. Yes they did win four games in a row against the Knicks, Pelicans, Rockets, and Mavericks. But since that time they dropped games to the Kings, Trail Blazers, Thunder, Trail Blazers, and Warriors. That last game was lost on a buzzer beater. Phoenix isn't bad. And Phoenix is hard to play against. They want a win, so it would be insanely childish to expect for them to just roll over and expose their bellies to us, in some mammalian form of subordination. The Suns also finish the season @ Hawks, @ Mavericks, @ Pelicans, @ Spurs, and @ Clippers.
This is the game on their calendar that looks like their last, easiest, chance for another win this season. So the Utah Jazz better bring it.
But to be even more real, if the Suns are going to prevail tonight it's not going to be because of some latent defensive ability they've been hiding all season long. They are .500 on the season, but their pace of play (2nd best in the league) combined with their below average defense (17th in DRTG) lead to a team that gives up 103.6 ppg (26th "best" in the league). Their offense is what saves them, by being a slightly better than average team (13th ORTG) playing at that pace they put up 103.6 ppg. Yes, that's a net zero.
Over the last 10 games they are 4-6, so that's worse than their regular season mark of 38-38. And they are giving up 97.10 ppg, while scoring only 94.70. That's a net average of -2.40, which is also worse than +/-0.00. So they are performing worse than they have on average this year.
This stretch has the team averaging those 94.70 ppg mainly through their own force of will. Or pace of play. Or just because they are shooting a lot. They are shooting it 84.50 times a game, while only hitting on 44.26% of those. They are hoisting up 20.40 three point attempts per game, while only making 27.94% of those attempts. And they are getting to the free throw line 21.00 times a game, and seriously, they are shooting a Jazz-like 67.62% from the line over the last 10 games. They are scoring, because of their volume.
Phoenix has been pretty active on the glass, again pace related. They are collecting 47.00 RPG, and 11.10 OREB per game at that. But if you are missing, oh, 47.10 FGA a game you are going to end up collecting some of those. (Still, 111 offensive rebounds for 471 misses is 24% of them. That's pretty high.) The Suns have been dishing out 19.20 apg, while throwing the ball away 14.70 times a game. That's a 1.31 assist to turn over ratio, and that's not nearly good enough for a team that has to play with offense. (Seriously, 4.3 bpg and 7.7 spg are nice, but not good enough to make a difference when you are averaging a billion possessions per game because of pace.)
If you break down their players you see that Head Coach Jeff Hornacek has really tightened the rotation because of injuries to , , and .
, , , , , , , and shouldn't be impossible to defeat.
Bledsoe has been their, but with less ridiculous numbers. He's always hard for the Jazz to cover, even when he was coming off the bench with the Los Angeles Clippers. and will have their hands full with him. If they can make him take more threes (contested ones) it could work out, but he has been -- clearly -- their best player over the last 10 games.
The Morris Twins are putting in work, especially Markieff who is averaging 18 / 8 / 3 / 2 (combined Steals and blocks per game). His ability to stretch the defense will be a huge test for our guys. Marcus is no slouch either. And along with P.J. Tucker these main four guys for the Suns have been averaging almost 30 rebounds a game. Phoenix doesn't have a traditional big galoot, but they team rebound like crazy.
has a broken nose and is expected to miss this game. Danny Granger has missed ALL of the games since the Miami / trade. And Brandon Knight and Marcus Thornton have been out of the lineup for this last stretch. If the Suns go "all in" as this being their last, best chance for a win this year we may see Knight and Thornton. If not, well, the Jazz benefit by having a number of Jazzkillers not suit up.
That doesn't mean that there aren't OTHER Jazz killers available. Besides Bledsoe and Morris, they still have Gerald Green and Brandan Wright. Both guys have hurt Utah before, and I think they can do that regardless of how well or poorly they are playing coming into the game. Like I said, this game isn't going to be easy.
Because of injuries and "whatever", the Suns have occasionally had to dig deep to their bench. They have Earl Barron. Baron is a 7 footer who is no risk to cause trouble on defense, or on offense. Jeff may have to match up big vs big, and he may seem more playing time. If we don't see him that means Jeff has gone small, and we are in trouble. Warren, on the other hand, is a small forward who has been Shanghai'd into playing some power forward of late. He's making a lot of his shots and blocking some., Archie Goodwin, , and (former Jazz player who didn't get to play in any games) out there at guard. Only Goodwin is playing a lot of minutes, but it's not like he's been shooting the lights out. I am interested to see how the Jazz head coach looks to match up against T.J. Warren and
I do believe in the Jazz defense with, , Dante Exum, and doing things -- but this isn't going to be an easy game to win, especially without an type who is a game changer. If there is one huge X-Factor in personnel I still think it has to be Markieff Morris. As he goes, so too do the Suns. He has torched the Jazz before and he is shooting really well right now. Phoenix is only going to win by being unguardable. And they have a lot of guys who can pick and pop, or space the floor -- leaving guys like Bledsoe (and possibly Knight and Thornton) with room to operate.
While I really hope the Jazz win this game, it's not going to be a given. Sure the Suns are setting right now (and if you look at their ages, you see that it's going to be hard to be competitive with this core in the West), but they still can beat the Jazz. After all, yes, they have lost five games in a row -- but almost beat Golden State on their own home court in their last game.
As far as measuring sticks go this is a really big one. If Utah can control the pace of play, own the glass, and match up well on switches this could be a rare Jazz win in Phoenix. If the Suns play their game, with all the motivation they have tonight, we could be in trouble.