Time: 6 pm (local)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
As usual on New Year’s Eve, the Phoenix Suns (10-23) play the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game that…what? They’re not playing the Thunder? Well, bake my biscuits!
Gordon Hayward is still the star of this Jazz team, averaging 25.5 points on 50.8-percent shooting from the field over the last four games (including 40.9 percent from 3). George Hill, who recently returned from a 13-game absence due to a toe injury, had 21 points, eight rebounds, and six assists against Philadelphia on Dec. 29. Rudy Gobert represents the entirety of Utah’s inside presence, averaging 2.6 blocks per game (2nd in the NBA to Anthony Davis) and pulling down 11.9 boards (5th in the NBA), but he also handles himself around the basket, chipping in 12.3 points on 69.5-percent shooting. Rodney Hood is third on the team in scoring at 14.4 points per game. Derrick Favors continues to round himself into shape after dealing with a litany of injuries.
As a team, the Jazz seem like a throwback. They play at the NBA’s second-slowest pace according to nba.com (93.16) and average just 99.2 points per game. However, they are efficient in their offense, shooting 46.7 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from 3. Combine that with a stingy defense that allows a league-best 95 points per game (6th-best per 100 possessions) and holds opponents to 43 percent from the field (3rd in the NBA) and 45.7 percent from inside the 3-point arc (1st in the NBA), and you get a team with the seventh-best record in the league.
Points: Gordon Hayward (22.3)
Rebounds: Rudy Gobert (11.9)
Assists: George Hill (4.3)
The Suns walked away a winner against the Toronto Raptors in a matchup between two teams playing on the second game of a back-to-back set. Still, it was only their fourth win in December.
Eric Bledsoe has wrested the title of best Sun away from Devin Booker for the time being by averaging 21.5 points and 5.8 assists in December. Booker, meanwhile, has seen his offense regress, as he has only shot above 45 percent from the field three times this month — nearly as many times as he has shot under 20 percent (twice). Tyson Chandler remains an effective rebounder, ranking ninth in the league at 11.3 rebounds per game. Outside of a few mainstays, though, the rotation remains very much in flux. Dragan Bender has moved into the backup power forward role after Jared Dudley came down with a severe case of overthirty-itis, and Brandon Knight only played 8:56 despite a solid game against Toronto, with a bulk of his time going to rookie Tyler Ulis. At this point, it’s impossible to say with certainty who will play and for how long in any given game.
Phoenix still gets out and runs. They own the second-highest pace in the league (103.47) and score the second-most fastbreak points at 18.5. However, their defensive problems persist. They rank 26th for opponent field goal percentage (46.7 percent) and 29th for opponent 3-point percentage (38.4 percent). That allows opposing teams to average 113.6 points per game (29th in the NBA) and 108.6 points per 100 possessions (27th in the NBA). One bright spot defensively is their steals, which at 8.8 per game is 3rd in the league.
Points: Eric Bledsoe (20.0)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (11.3)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (5.5)
Alec Burks (Jazz): left ankle surgery (OUT)
Dante Exum (Jazz): patellar tendinitis in right knee (OUT)
The Suns have lost five straight and eight of the last 10 games to the Jazz, including the only meeting between the two teams this season, a 112-105 loss on Dec. 6.
This should be a clash of styles, with Utah looking to slow the game down and Phoenix seeking to speed it up. The Suns were somewhat effective in imparting their will on the first meeting with strong efforts off the bench but allowed the Jazz to take too big of a lead early and couldn’t recover. The Jazz are only 11-7 at home this season, so if Phoenix can carry over the good effort from the previous night against the Raptors, they could ring in the new year with a win. Or they could be their inconsistent selves and lose for the fifth straight time on New Year’s Eve.
Eric Bledsoe vs. Rudy Gobert
It may not be a traditional matchup, but these two will go at each other plenty tonight. Utah’s defense is built on funneling players to Rudy Gobert on the inside while Eric Bledsoe’s offense is dependent on his ability to get into the paint and score, with 42.3 percent of his field goal attempts coming within 10 feet of the rim. Whichever player gains the upper hand in the paint will give his team a good shot at victory.
Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)
Despite losing to the Jazz earlier this month, Phoenix seems to play its best against Utah in December, owning a 12-6 record all time for a winning percentage of .667 — tops of any month.
March is Phoenix’s worst month to play Utah, with a winning percentage of just .355 (11-20).