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Surging Phoenix Suns Face First Sloan-less Jazz Team Since Reagan Was President

Reagan, Bush Sr, Clinton, Bush Jr, Obama. Five Presidents to one Jazz coach. 23 years.

Tonight's opponent, the Utah Jazz, is plummeting. The Jazz are not only losers in 10 of their last 14, but their long-time coach Jerry Sloan and his top assistant suddenly retired yesterday.

Active Jazz players Andre Kirilenko, Deron Williams, CJ Miles, Paul Millsap, Krylyo Fesenko and Mehmet Okur have NEVER played an NBA game without Sloan running the show. Never. Do they step up? Do they prove to the league that they can win even when their coach walks out on them? 

But here's the bigger question: does anyone think Sloan was actually the problem?

The marriage of Al Jefferson (for whom the Jazz surrendered 2 future #1s) to Sloan's motion offense was doomed from the start. Big Al is the antithesis of motion. He wants to set up on the low block and score the ball or rebound the ball, depending on which end of the court he's on. He's a 20/10 machine.

Unfortunately, his style does not lend itself to winning. His numbers are relatively "empty". While a Paul Millsap makes a difference on the game by his presence, Big Al sucks the presence right back out. He takes a while to get into position, and then rarely moves from it. And given the number of times he's got the ball against a double-team, he's fairly allergic to passing.

Not surprisingly, Utah eventually struggled. They ran out to a 15-5 start on the juice of several come-from-behind wins that splashed across national headlines for a few weeks. But then reality set in. Since that big start, Utah is 16-18 including 4-10 in their last 14 games. Another indicator of serious average-ness: on the season, Utah scores 99.6 points while surrendering 99.6 points. Even steven.

Deron Williams and Paul Millsap are their best players. CJ Miles' role is too big for him to handle, Andre Kirilenko is tailing off and nobody else is making a difference either. Raja Bell just doesn't have it anymore, while Price and Watson never had it in the first place.

Now with Sloan out, reportedly due to ongoing friction with Deron Williams, who knows what we'll see from Utah. They might sleep-walk through this game, unsure which way is up or down. Or, we might see a really focused, frenetic team trying to prove they can survive without Sloan. Deron Williams just might put up 40 and 15. Millsap has shown the ability to pour in the points.

But that won't mask Utah's biggest problem. They have NO outside shooting. No wing players who can create a shot, or are a threat to catch and shoot. Three of their best shooters from last season - Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer - are gone. Mehmet Okur has been injured. All they have now is Raja Bell, CJ Miles and a band of bad backup PGs.

So you pack the paint against Jefferson and Millsap, force Deron Williams to stay on the perimeter and the game is yours.

Say hello the sad folks at SLC Dunk. They need your support.

But hey Alex, what about the Suns?

All I've got for you is one date.

Apparently, January 28 has become a magic date for Alvin Gentry's Phoenix SunsLast season, that date kicked off a 28-7 finish to a season that had started a pedestrian 26-21, triggered by Jason Terry famously calling out the Suns' defense on national TV.

This season, the Suns have gone 5-1 so far since January 28 to pull even at 25-25 after a 20-24 start. Those 5 wins have been over Boston, New Orleans, Milwaukee and Golden State (twice). The Suns even played well in their only loss, squandering a 4th quarter lead to division-leader Oklahoma City. 

On a larger scale, the Suns have won 10 of their last 14 games at the same time the Jazz have lost 10 of 14.

The Suns simply need to play to their strengths on offense, pack the paint on defense, and play inspired ball. Don't let the Jazz get confident. Don't let the jazz freelance their way to a win. Play hard.



Phoenix Suns First Test For Utah Jazz After Jerry Sloan - SB Nation Arizona
Suns' coach Alvin Gentry talked about Sloan's legacy and tenure, during which time over 250 other NBA coaches have been hired (and fired). Gentry counted up nine different coaching jobs he's held during Sloan's time running the Jazz.

"If I'm not mistaken, I think in the last 15 years he's had one losing season. That's a pretty good run right there," Gentry said.

and because it never gets old...


Video: Jared Dudley's First Dunk Of The Season - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
"Let me just say, Jared Dudley's dunk might have been the best dunk I've ever seen him do. Honestly, I thought it was Vince Carter streaking to the basket. If I had known it was Jared I probably wouldn't have passed it to him. But, I'm glad I did because we got a great highlight."

Phoenix Suns Player Thermometer, Week 15: It's A .500 Celebration! - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
In the actual week that was, the Suns played just two games -- one a tight loss to Oklahoma City in which referee favorite Kevin Durant benefited from a phantom foul call which, after a pair of technical fouls on Nash/Hill, resulted in a game-changing four free throws. The other game was Monday night's near-blown lead to Golden State in which the Suns shot out to a large early advantage only to see it slip away.


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