The Good Guys: The Phoenix Suns
The Bad Guys: The Utah Jazz
Where: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
When: 6 PM PST
Radio: AZ Sports 98.7 FM
For those Suns fans who are truly committed to the tank, it might be time to worry. The Suns are now 4-5 over their last nine games, having prevailed over Orlando, Minnesota, and Memphis twice.
To make matters worse, the Suns' next four games after tonight involve two matches against the Lakers, one against Sacramento and one against Memphis. They also have games against Minnesota, Milwaukee and New Orleans before the end of the season.
I will never be the type of fan that roots for the team to lose, although I admit that there are obvious benefits to a better pick. It's looking highly unlikely that the Suns will lose more games than the Lakers or win more games than the T-Wolves from now on, so they're fighting with Brooklyn (or Boston, technically) to see who gets the 3rd-best odds in the lottery.
The Utah Jazz
Suns fans will be able to sympathize with the current position of the Jazz. Utah is currently 1.5 games out of 8th place in the West, and after holding a record of 26-25 at one point they are now 6-10 over their last 16 games.
Injuries haven't helped. Dante Exum hasn't played a single game this season. Alec Burks has a left ankle sprain and a concussion and has appeared in only 28 games. The athletic frontcourt duo of Favors and Gobert is currently healthy, but both players missed 15-20 games earlier in the season. Hayward has been mostly healthy but is questionable for tonight's game due to plantar fascitis in his right foot.
As a result, a Jazz team that was widely considered to have one of the brightest futures in the league about 12 months ago now finds itself in the exact same position as last year. The Jazz finished 38-44 last year, but their 19-10 stretch after the All-Star break convinced many that a trio of Hayward, Favors and Gobert could accomplish great things.
None of those three are over 25, so there is still plenty of time to watch that core grow together. However, this has not been quite the result that Jazz fans were hoping for.
If Hayward plays, the Jazz lineup will look a lot stronger. But point guard is a bit of a mess for them as Shelvin Mack has been the starter since being traded from Atlanta, where he averaged close to 8 MPG. Exum is out, Neto hasn't been great and Burke never lived up to expectations.
I think that the Suns' backcourt has a pretty distinct advantage in this one, and they're coming off two days of rest. A win here, whether you like it or not, is not inconceivable.
I'll play it safe and go with a loss, but it could be close.
Jazz win, 101-96.