The Utah Jazz (20-13) look to face off against the Phoenix Suns (10-23) on New Year’s Eve. So far the Jazz are 2-1 for against the Suns this season, including splitting the pair of preseason games. Importantly, though, the Jazz won the only game that’s “counted” so far, behind Rudy Gobert’s 22 points and 11 rebounds (10 for 11 free throw shooting!) and Gordon Hayward’s 28 points. The Jazz are coming off a two game winning streak over the Lakers and 76ers, but have been a mixed bag as of late: four straight wins followed by three straight losses leading up to those last two games. On the other hand, the Suns have won only 3 games in their last 10, with expected wins over the Knicks and 76ers. However, they somehow managed to pull the hood over Toronto on Thursday night, beating the league’s best offense 99 to 91. So even though the Suns aren’t very good right now, if a couple of their players get too hot and our defense can’t keep up, there could be trouble.
Marquee Matchup: George Hill vs Eric Bledsoe
With all due respect to Devin Booker, Bledsoe is the bigger threat right now. Even though Bledsoe is even less of a threat from three than Shelvin Mack (29.7% to 31.7%), he’s averaging a solid 20.0 ppg, with 5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. George Hill also puts up 20.1 ppg with 4 rebounds and 4.3 assists, but does it on an almost unsustainably efficient 55% FG percentage and 47.5% 3 point shooting. George Hill has just returned for his first game in just about one month, while Bledsoe has lead his team in scoring 9 times this month. Both are renowned as great defensive players. This should be a good battle.
X-Factor: Big Men Minutes
The Phoenix Suns have a glut of big men and swing forwards, from Jared Dudley, TJ Warren, and PJ Tucker, to Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, and recent draft picks Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Phoenix is supposedly all in on the youth movement, but Tyson Chandler has started 24 of the 25 games he’s played in, and Jared Dudley began the season as the starting power forward. Chandler is averaging 11.3 rebounds per game, though, and Dudley has been the most consistent strong outside option for the Suns as at a smoking 44.4% on 3.5 attempts per game. Yet there are signs that Earl is taking towards the youth movement: Dudley’s received 3 DNP-CD’s over the last three games, Marquese Chriss has started 26 games, and Dragan Bender has moved into the rotation in his place.
So what does this mean for the Jazz? The Jazz have had similarly inconsistent playing times for their big men this season, but that was more a function of injury. Of course, Derrick Favors is still recovering from injury, while Jeff Withey barely gets any time. We’ll see how the mishmash of young and vet matches up with the continued rise of the Jazz’s Wasatch Front.
Jazz start out quickly this time and weather the storm to pull out the W.