Okay, so there are a few things I know in life. And fewer still about the NBA. But one of the things I have learned through the decades of being a sports fan is that you can never just assume a win without your team going out there to deserve winning. You can’t overlook any team, not in a 30 team league that brings in the best (non-Ante Tomic) talent from all around the world to play. You can’t trust other teams to lose when they should. And you can never rely on the schedule either. And for the Utah Jazz (13-9), who are going to host the Phoenix Suns (6-14) tonight, the one thing you have to agree is that this game is going to be harder to win on the court than on paper.
On paper this is no contest. The Utah Jazz have 7 more wins than the Phoenix Suns, and 7 is a larger number than the total number of wins our Arizonian brothers have. This season Utah is 5-1 at home against the Western Conference, Phoenix is 1-7 on the road against the Western Conference. Utah swept the season series against Phoenix last year 4-0. And Phoenix has a good shot to win in Utah (40-47 overall record here), but no one is really afraid of a team like Phoenix right now.
But Utah has a reason to be afraid. Eric Bledsoe has beaten Utah all by himself before, and his 20/6/5/2 average so far this season in 20 games is something to fear. Devin Booker is making all kinds of crazy shots this year and also averaging 20. Guards who an score have torched the Jazz since they were back in New Orleans. And if you can hit the three ball then that is a force multiplier against conservative Utah defenses. Nine different Suns players are taking at least a three a game this season: Booker, Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Jared Dudley, P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Leandro Barbosa. They aren’t killing it out from there, but they will keep trying and stretching the defense on threat assessment alone.
One thing few Suns teams have had is a rim protector. With Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, and heck, even Chriss and Bender this team possibly has four. That’s a really new wrinkle to playing against Phoenix. Oh, and their head coach is Earl Watson. Watson was a bulldog defender on the court and great communicator with younger players. This team is young. And he had their ear.
Defensively these guys get at it, forcing turn overs and keeping the other team off the glass. Those are the fundamentals to a scrappy, infectious play where small-ball can be disruptive and successful. And Watson is building a successful team in the wake of what Jeff Hornacek laid foundations for.
They have had two nights off since the Golden State Warriors pantsed them 138-109. Young teams are emotional teams. They have pride. They aren’t going to want to come out sluggish after losing by 30 points. Not with two days to stew about it. It’s going to be a tough game for the Jazz.
Especially with the guys they will continue to miss — George Hill, Derrick Favors, and Alec Burks. At least head coach Quin Synder is back. That’s good news. Phoenix doesn’t have any real injuries aside from T.J. Warren. Utah also played last night and will be on the tail end of a back-to-back and the third game in four nights. Cumulative strain and fatigue will be things to watch out for, especially with such abbreviated line-ups. Oh well.
Marquee Match-Up: Rodney Hood vs. Devin Booker
Hot Rod (part deux) needs to show that he’s the better shooting guard, and that doesn’t just mean making shots or jacking up one on one threes. It means someone who can be effective without the ball in his hands, or someone who helps out all over the court. Get some rebounds, get some steals, play defense. I think Hood has this, but Booker has proven that he can ignite under the right circumstances. He’s volatile. Hood needs to show Booker that he’s a volcano, though.
Don’t let some fools come off the bench to score 55 points on you, like you let two Lakers to in the last game.
Prediction: Jazz win
Phoenix is going to be tough. Utah has to prove they are a better team on paper and on the court.