Suns-Jazz Game Preview: April 24
By Matt Beardmore
Posted: April 24, 2012
Posted: April 24, 2012
With two games remaining, the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns aren't sure if they're going to make the playoffs or head home early for the summer.
A Utah victory over visiting Phoenix on Tuesday night would answer that question for both teams, but an eighth consecutive loss by the Jazz in this series would give the Suns control of their postseason fate.
With a one-game lead over Phoenix (33-31) for eighth place in the Western Conference, Utah (34-30) is in position to clinch its first playoff appearance in two years with a fourth consecutive victory. The Jazz are in this spot thanks to a 6-3 stretch since a 107-105 home loss to the Suns on April 4.
"All season long we've been fighting," guard Gordon Hayward said Saturday after Utah rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit for a 117-107 overtime win over Orlando. "We needed this one badly."
Utah's playoff chances wouldn't end with a loss Tuesday, but falling to 0-3 against Phoenix this season would swing the momentum to the Suns' side.
If Phoenix wins Tuesday, it would lock up the eighth seed with either a victory over West-leading San Antonio on Wednesday or a Utah loss versus Portland the following night.
That scenario is far from a guarantee, as the Suns have split 10 games since their victory in Salt Lake City earlier this month.
Phoenix couldn't keep pace with the Jazz on Saturday, falling 118-107 at home to Denver.
"We got to go into Utah - tough environment, tough atmosphere, tough team - and we got to win," guard Shannon Brown said after hitting a career-high six 3-pointers and scoring 28 points. "That's basically what it comes down to."
The Jazz have won four straight at home since the April 4 loss to improve to 23-8 at EnergySolutions Arena.
Utah, though, knows that if it's going to improve that mark, it will have to limit Steve Nash's opportunities to create offense.
The two-time MVP, who is averaging 12.5 points and 12.5 assists against the Jazz this season, hit two shots in the final 14 seconds April 4 to guide the Suns to their fourth consecutive victory in Utah.
"Steve Nash is going to do the same thing (as Magic point guard Jameer Nelson) and get his guys the ball," said Jazz forward Al Jefferson, the Western Conference player of the week. "But we just have to grind it out and play hard and get some hands up in his face."
It's uncertain if the Jazz will have to worry about Channing Frye after he suffered a subluxed right shoulder Saturday. Frye led the Suns with 26 points and nine rebounds in a 120-111 home win over Utah on March 14.
Phoenix, though, could have Grant Hill available after he missed the last four games with right knee inflammation.
Point guard Devin Harris leads the Jazz with averages of 23.7 points and 6.0 assists during their winning streak. Jefferson is scoring 20.0 points per game with 15.3 rebounds during the stretch, while Hayward is averaging 19.7 points.
Utah's last victory in this series was 116-108 in Phoenix on March 4, 2010.
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