Today is the last day of the Las Vegas Summer League prelim stage. What's up for grabs right now is a first round bye, and there are a number of teams fighting for the last three of them. For the Utah Jazz to get one of them they're going to have to beat the Phoenix Suns today, and that game is the last one of the night -- so they'll know by just how many points they'll have to beat them by too. Effectively, Utah may need to completely crush Phoenix. Thankfully, there's a way to do it. However, the Suns are in a similar boat and at least theoretically can still get a 1st round bye in the LVSL tournament too. And they'll really have to torch the Jazz if that's going to happen. Sadly, or dreadfully, head coach Jeff Hornacek kinda has a team that may be able to do just that. Sure, Alex Len is a solid bigman but their bigs don't strike any fear into anyone. And yes, this is a team that's somehow starting Jerel McNeal and getting all of 1.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, and 1.0 spg out of him. But it's their wings that will be a problem for the Jazz. Right now there's no one playing for Utah that can keep up with T.J. Warren, Archie Goodwin, and Devin Booker.
The Suns are 1-1, like the Jazz, but won their first game by 9, and lost their next by 19. They beat up on one of the worst teams in Vegas, the Washington Wizards. The Houston Rockets dismantled them in their second game, but may hold the key on just how the Jazz should proceed. Still, though, I sadly think that the Suns will come out with more urgency here than the Jazz. After all, it's very likely that Utah will continue to sit Dante Exum and Rodney Hood out. (And if they played, well, game over for Phoenix.)
Phoenix has the wing advantage, and we'll get to that in a bit, but let's first start with the point of attack here: point guard. The Jazz have the advantage here with how Bryce Cotton has been playing. He is looking out for his own shot, and on this team, that's usually the best way for our side to keep scoring. He will keep the pressure on Phoenix on offense, though his defense seems to be limited to playing the passing lanes, and less so on actually preventing the other team from getting to where they want.
McNeal, former Jazzman and all, is playing less per game than two guys he starts over. Mickey and Mike are both distributing the ball well, James is also adding 7 ppg. Behind Cotton there isn't much, Olivier is improving, but he's still playing more minutes at shooting guard. (And outside of FT shooting, he's shooting just as well as Cotton is.) Also, because this is just how it works, shooting guard Jared Cunningham is playing more minutes with the ball in his hands. If Utah is going to win this game Cotton needs to return to his Allen Iverson avatar form, like what he showed in the Utah Summer League. It'll be his third game in four nights, and sixth big minute game in a two weeks. I hope he can manage it.
The Jazz will need his juice, because the Suns wings are just deadly. Even if Devin Booker's shot has been trash, he's still deadly. I don't expect him to have THREE bad shooting nights in a row. He'll be open because Warren and Goodwin are both averaging 21 ppg. Really. That's insane.
Clearly, yes, Rodney Hood makes a difference here if he plays. I don't know if he will. If Phoenix is going to win it will be because they take the advantage here and run with it. I do like Christapher Johnson and J.J. O'Brien's abilities as wing defenders. That's essentially where the game will be won or lost -- especially with how many FTA those guys get. Those three Suns essentially are their team. If two of those three have a tough time, the Jazz may be able to run away with the game.
Of course, they may not want to run at all. Why? Because our inside force is best suited right now to the halfcourt battle, and not a running game. Yes, they have the biggest guy on the block in Alex Len, but beyond him I'm not worried. At all.
JaJuan is hurt right now, and I don't know if he's going to be ready to play -- but his energy and ability would really help extend the bigman advantage created by Lyles, Cooley, and Motum. Len was dominant in the one game he played in. Beyond him they don't have much. Harangody is an older, worse version of Cooley. Brown and Harrellson are averaging -- together -- 6.0 rpg, which is 0.5 more than Brock gets by himself. If Lyles' shot is falling, watch out.
Phoenix has the better numbers when you look at Warren and Goodwin, and our guys; but those guys get their numbers in blowouts. The Jazz have played well, and played defense when it matters. And in this game it may ultimately not be about which players get the bigger stats, but which team keeps the other to the lower final score.
In that regard it's hard to bet against the Jazz. Getting a win may be the final outcome, but I am not certain that the Jazz can win by enough to secure a Top 8 seed, and first round bye. We'll see though.
The game starts at 5:30 pm MT. According to the weather nerds, sundown in Vegas is scheduled for 8:58 pm MT -- but let's see if the Jazz can make it come a little earlier.