This is something of a high point in the season for the Utah Jazz. They're 26-16, Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward are playing like all-stars, and, for the first time since 2010, are all but a lock for the playoffs. Even the bad luck for the Jazz hasn't been quite as bad as usual: we all held our collective breath when we saw Rodney Hood fall to the ground, screaming in pain, but his season isn't over! He suffered a bone bruise, as I'm sure nearly everyone reading this blog knows, and will return relatively soon.
The Phoenix Suns are having a decidedly Suns-y season: not many wins, a few bright spots, but rather dismal on the whole. Lately, though, things are looking up for them. Check this out:
Yeah. Remember those bright spots I mentioned? Devin Booker is one of those, and he just put together a stretch in which he scored 78 points on 42 shots. Pretty good, eh? He's turning out to be a scary player, and will likely be an all-star someday. In the slightly bigger picture, Los Suns have gone 3-2 in their last five, which is a big deal for them, with one of the wins coming against the San Antonio Spurs.
Yes, the Suns are on a bit of a roll right now, but the Jazz are 19-4 against teams below .500. They are finally beating teams that they're supposed to beat, even if those teams sometimes get the jump on them early. You read that right, the Jazz—the Utah Jazz—are closing games.
So, let's go over matchups.
Coach: Quin Snyder vs. Earl Watson
(Forgive me for using another Teletubbies Sun picture. Also for my poor image editing skills.)
I think a lot of us wanted Earl to get into the coaching biz when he was playing here. I still want him to do well, just not against the Jazz. Earl’s players seem to like him, and he gets them to play hard even though they haven’t quite put it all together yet. Quin has a better basketball mind overall, more experience and, well, a better team.
Point Guard: George Hill vs. Eric Bledsoe
At the beginning of the season I wrote off Eric Bledsoe as broken-down and irrelevant. He’s proved me wrong so far, and is having himself a solid season. The stats slightly favor George Hill, and I think George has a slim defensive edge here, but this should be a tough matchup for both guards.
Shooting Guard: Devin Booker vs. Alec Burks (?)
If I were in charge of the rotations (it’s probably a good thing I’m not) I would actually start Joe Ingles here. He’s been more than serviceable against guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and I think he could keep up with Devin Booker. That said, I’m guessing that Alec “Government Name” Burks gets the nod, which will be a good test of his recovery. Get well soon, Rodney Hood!
Small Forward: Gordon Hayward vs. TJ Warren
TJ Warren is not a bright spot on the Suns’ roster. He has his moments, but he just hasn’t been much of an asset to the team this season. Look for Gordon Hayward to eat his lunch.
Power Forward: Derrick Favors vs. Marquese Chriss
The 4-spot has been a sore spot for the Suns this season. Marquese Chriss is having himself a dud of a season, and Jared Dudley is having an even dudlier one. Derrick Favors is finally looking like his old self, and will probably have pretty much whatever he wants in the paint.
Center: Rudy Gobert vs. Tyson Chandler
Remember when Tyson Chandler was good?
Anyway, he’s not as bad as the rest of the Suns’ forwards, as he can at least rebound, averaging about 12 per game. He’s also a decent shooter, but that’s when he’s not playing against the Stifle Tower.
If the starters do their jobs, the only real concern in this game is the backcourt. Rudy Gobert will need to be a constant presence in the paint to take away the dribble-drive from Bledsoe, Booker, and Barbosa, and guys like Hill, Ingles and Burks will need to close out on the three-point line. I don’t think the Jazz will have too much trouble, but they have been getting into the bad habit of not showing up at the beginning of games. That’s better than disappearing at the end, though, so there’s that.
Alex Len, you suck. That is all. Go Jazz!