The Suns are angry. That anger is directed toward themselves after back-to-back losses that saw Phoenix hold significant leads in the fourth quarter before defensive letdowns set in.
After Tuesday night’s loss, players and coaches alike were visibly displeased with this recent trend and decidedly determined to see it end.
That’s where the Jazz come in.
Utah has played nearly .500 ball (10-12) since the new year began, but needed a visit from struggling Boston to snap a three-game losing streak on Monday.
Can Phoenix use the Jazz as its vaulting point back to better habits? Here are five things that will determine the answer.
Phoenix has lost the last three first quarters by a combined score of 87-63. Once one of the better game-starting teams in the league, the Suns have drifted away from hammering teams with energy and tempo early.
Utah presents a chance to correct that trend. The Jazz are third-worst in the league in first-quarter scoring (22.7 points) and second-worst in shooting (43.0 percent).
The formula has been the same in the last two losses. Phoenix didn’t get stops on defense (67 opponent points combined in fourth quarter). Subsequently they couldn’t get out in transition, scoring just seven fast break points and four points off turnovers combined in their last two fourth quarters.
The Suns were adamant on Tuesday night that defense will solve all their late-game issues. Stops will blunt opponents’ scoring and, in turn, boost their own (39 combined fourth quarter points over last two games).
Phoenix’s starting trio of P.J. Tucker, Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye has been held to single-digit scoring over the last two losses, shooting a combined 17-for-52 (32.7 percent) in that span.
The Suns simply need more from that starting group, especially to take pressure off Goran Dragic and Gerald Green, who accounted for nine of the team’s 20 points in last night’s fourth quarter.
Phoenix saw a lot of the Jazz in November, when they played three times and beat them twice.
Things have changed since then. The Suns are without Eric Bledsoe (knee). The Jazz have become respectable and dangerous on a night-to-night basis after starting the season 2-15.
Each team’s ability to adjust to the other’s new identity will be key.
Green & Keef
Speaking of Green, he and Markieff Morris have injected even more life than usual into the Suns’offense, recently.
Over his last seven games, Green is averaging 22.7 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from downtown.
Morris has been just as lethal in his own way over the last five contests, putting up 19.4 points on 54.7 percent shooting and adding 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.8 steals in the process.