The Utah Jazz's worst stretch of the season has cost them the lead in the Northwest Division. If the Phoenix Suns' slump continues, they may also be playing catch up soon in the Pacific.
Coming off consecutive losses to subpar teams, the division-leading Suns look to capitalize on a matchup with the struggling Jazz on Wednesday.
Utah (13-9) dropped one-half game behind Denver in the Northwest following its fourth straight loss, 97-89 to Portland on Tuesday. A fifth straight defeat would match the Jazz's longest skid from last season, set April 4-11.
Phoenix (16-6), meanwhile, is tied with Orlando for the NBA's second-best record and has a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific, but it has lost consecutive contests to teams with a combined 9-31 record. After winning five straight, the Suns lost 100-93 to league-worst Minnesota on Saturday night, then fell 117-113 to Miami two days later.
"We'll have to be a better defensive team when we play better teams or they will run all over us," Suns guard Raja Bell said.
Phoenix is in danger of losing three straight for the first time this season.
Suns point guard Steve Nash, however, downplayed the significance of the losses.
"You've got to keep moving forward and not worry about what's behind you," Nash said. "It's never that bad and it's never that great."
Nash is shooting 33.3 percent (9-for-27) in his last two contests, but had 14 assists Monday to raise his season average to a league-leading 12.4. The two-time MVP has recorded at least 14 assists in seven straight games.
Nash had 18 assists in a 126-98 win over Utah on April 14 to help Phoenix avoid being swept in the teams' four meetings last season. The Suns have lost their last two at home to the Jazz.
Utah averaged 108.5 points against Phoenix in 2006-07, but is coming off its worst offensive game of the season.
The Jazz shot a season-low 38.2 percent (34-for-89) from the field against the Blazers, and their 89 points were a season low. They shot 7 for 23 in the second quarter and went 5:31 without a field goal.
On defense, meanwhile, Utah has surrendered an average of 108.8 points over its last five games, which doesn't bode well heading into a matchup with the high-scoring Suns. Phoenix leads the NBA with 110.4 points per contest.
"We're not bringing a lot of energy and we're not playing a lot of defense," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said.
Utah lost to the Blazers despite a 50-37 edge on the boards and outscoring them 48-20 in the paint. Most of that success was due to another outstanding game from Carlos Boozer, who had 29 points and 13 rebounds.
Boozer is averaging 27.0 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting 65.5 percent from the field in his last eight games, but the Jazz are 3-5 in that span. The 6-foot-9 forward will be working in the paint against a Phoenix team that has been outrebounded 101-62 its last two games.
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