Jazz Pose Significant Problems At Home
The Suns will encounter that kind of ruckus environment Wednesday night as they visit the Jazz who are fighting for their playoff lives.
Of course, this game and the Western Conference playoff results have implications for Phoenix, which would receive a second lottery pick from the Los Angeles Lakers if the rival from L.A. doesn’t make the playoffs. Currently the Jazz and Mavericks stand just a game behind the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West.
On this night, though, the Suns will have a much narrower focus. On this evening they’ll be focusing on a Utah team that has 15 more wins at home than they do away from EnergySolutions Arena. If head coach Lindsey Hunter’s crew wants to even the season series, they certainly have a fight on their hands.
Here are five other aspects to keep an eye on as the Suns and Jazz square off for the fourth and final time this season:
Low post play is the strength of the Jazz offense. It’s a position that the Suns are hoping to get stronger at with the potential return of Jermaine O’Neal.
The 17-year veteran had been inserted into the head coach’s starting lineup due to the absence of Marcin Gortat, but a calf strain and stomach virus sidelined O’Neal for the team’s losses to Minnesota and Brooklyn.
There is no doubt Hunter is pleased to be expecting O’Neal’s return, considering he has to find a way for the Suns to defend Utah big men Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors.
“It helps a lot (to have O’Neal in the lineup), because that’s what they do,” Hunter said after practice on Tuesday. “They are a big, interior-playing team. So having him around would help a lot.”
Back On Track?
After a stretch in which the Jazz lost 12-of-15 games, Utah pulled within one game of the Lakers for that last playoff spot following a win on Monday against Philadelphia.
The 107-91 victory earned at home came, in large part, because of the play of the team’s younger bigs – Favors and Kanter.
In extended minutes this duo produced 25 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks. Favors earned all of the blocks and 10 of those rebounds, as his athleticism and ability to affect the game down low was apparent.
Despite narrowly missing a triple-double, Suns point guard Goran Dragic may have signed off on his single most-impressive performance of his four-year NBA career on Sunday.
In a matchup at the point that featured one of the league’s premier guards in Deron Williams, it was Dragic that stole the show. He sliced through the Nets’ defense to the tune of 31 points. He found his teammates often enough to collect 12 assists. And he finished one rebound shy of 10 by making sure he was almost always around the ball.
After the game finished with the Nets narrowly getting the win, 102-100, Hunter praised the team for its effort in the contest – undoubtedly led by Dragic’s passion and creativity.
“We are of course disappointed because we lost, but if we can have that type of effort every single night we will take it,” the head coach said. “We will take it and we will walk off the court with our heads high because we fought and that is the message.”
The other person who gave the Suns head coach exactly what he wanted against Brooklyn was second-year power forward Markieff Morris.
Hunter said that his big man didn’t worry about his offense in the game, how many touches he was receiving or shots he was putting up. Instead he dug down deep and played with spirit on the glass and on defense.
The result was a 15-rebound game, in which nine of those boards came on the offensive end – thus signifying that the multiple efforts Morris was putting into each possession were paying off.
“It’s about competing defensively, and rebounding and doing those things, because if you do those things the other things will come,” Hunter said. “You’ll get your attempts, you’ll get all of that stuff, because you’ll be on the floor.”
While the Suns have the rock-solid Dragic running the point, Utah is relying on Mo Williams – now that he is healthy again – at the point. Tyrone Corbin’s team also relies on the offensive punch provided by Randy Foye at the other guard position.
In the past Williams has seen success as a combo guard providing a spark off the bench, but he has been handed the reins to the Jazz this season. Williams was traded to Utah from the Clippers, while Foye decided to join his former Clipper teammate in Utah via free agency.
How each of these two players perform down the stretch and during tonight’s game could indicate where Utah is going from here.