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Phoenix Suns' Key To Tuesday's Must-Win Lies In The Matchup Mismatches

Gortat is going to have to match Jefferson's output, or at least come close, so that Nash and co. can win the game on shooting.
Gortat is going to have to match Jefferson's output, or at least come close, so that Nash and co. can win the game on shooting.

The Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz are similar in some ways and polar opposites in many others.

While the Utah Jazz boast the league's most prolific front line, they give up as much as they score and their backcourt play is generally below average. Utah's front line is 1st in the league in points per game (65.4), 3rd in rebounding (35), 3rd in steals (4.9), 7th in blocks (4.7) and 8th in free throw attempts (15.9).

Yet as good as the Jazz are on the front line, they are barely above .500 as a team and needed overtime to beat a Magic team whose tallest front-line player is 6-foot-8 Glen Davis. The Jazz's prolific front-line gives up a lot of points, and their backcourt scores the league's 4th fewest points per game while giving up the 3rd-most backcourt points per game.

This plays right into the Phoenix Suns' hands, despite the injuries to Grant Hill and Channing Frye. The Suns live on the perimeter. While the Suns are only 18th in frontcourt scoring and efficiency, they are 5th in the league overall in backcourt play. Steve Nash, Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown and Michael Redd should have a field day.

When you look at Phoenix and Utah in totality, though, their results are very similar. Their total team offenses are pretty good overall (top ten), while their total defenses are below average (bottom ten).

For the Suns, the key to Tuesday's "play-in" game against Utah will be to win the perimeter matchup by more than they lose the frontcourt matchup.

Let's take a closer look at the two earlier games against the Jazz, both won by Phoenix.

Suns win 120-111 on March 14, in Phoenix

When the Suns played Utah on March 14 in Phoenix, the Suns frontcourt held its own against the Jazz frontcourt, while the Suns guards demolished the Jazz guards. Jefferson and Millsap scored 36 points and grabbed 17 rebounds between them in 63 game minutes, but they were a collective -34 for the game. The Jazz bench made the game somewhat close in the end, led by C.J. Miles and Earl Watson.

Channing Frye had 26 points in that game (5-10 on 3-pointers) and Marcin Gortat had 25 and five to keep pace with the Jazz bigs. Markieff Morris did not play at all in this game -- out sick, I believe.

Suns win 107-105 on April 4, in Utah

This was the Channing Frye bankshot game, if you recall. The Jazz starters were storming back in the 4th until Frye hit that turnaround bankshot 3-pointer to seal the lead. Prior to that, though, Frye was a relative dud in this game. He had only 13 points and four rebounds in nearly 30 minutes.

Overall, this game was a total opposite of the March 14 game for both teams. This time, the Jazz's starters (mainly their frontline of Hayward, Jefferson and Millsap) dominated the Suns starters. Watson and Miles were very good in the Jazz starting lineup at the guard spots, holding their own against the Suns' starters.

It was the Suns' bench that made the difference. Morris, Redd, Telfair and Lopez were all good that game, as they have been most of April.


The Suns' prolific offense (specifically their guards) won each game, and will need to do that again on Tuesday night.

Markieff Morris, who played well in his only prior game against the Jazz bench, will have to step up in Frye's likely absence.

But most of all the Suns backcourt of Steve Nash, Shannon Brown, Michael Redd and Sebastian Telfair will have to dominate the Jazz backcourt of Devin Harris and Demarre Carroll. Jared Dudley will have to approximate Gordon Hayward's contributions. And Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez will have to just stay alive against the Jazz bigs.

This will be a high-scoring affair, with both teams much more interested in their offensive mismatches than in their defenses.

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