When: 3:00 PM AZ Time (early start!)
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM ArizonaSports
The Utah Jazz are climbing out of their rebuilding phase and are ready to break through to the Western Conference playoffs for the first time in four years.
Lucky for them, the West is on a downswing where 41 wins just might get you a first round matchup with the Golden State Warriors. Just two seasons ago, you needed 49 wins to make the playoffs in the West. Times change.
The Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, have no such sense of timing. When it takes 49 wins to make the playoffs, the Suns get just 48. When it takes 45 wins (last year), the Suns whine and complain their way to only 39. And now, when 41 might get you in, the Suns are scraping the bottom of the barrel at 20.
The Utah Jazz have overcome some injury obstacles of their own this year. They lost promising PG Dante Exum for the season. SG Alec Burks has missed most of the year. They lost a month each from Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.
Yet they've got the depth and the discipline to keep the train moving. They have the league's 7th best defense (thanks in large part to Rudy Gobert) and 15th ranked offense. At 38-38, it's barely a .500 record, but that might get the Jazz to the promised land anyway. And they're just getting started.
Besides Trevor Booker, no one in their top 10 is older than 25. They drafted young for years and now are seeing the fruits of their patience. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors were drafted in 2010, but are still just 25 and 24 respectively. They suffered through some bad seasons and have come out as their two best players. Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood are recent post-lotto draft finds. And Trey Lyles is this year's late-lotto draft find. All those extra draft picks have helped buffer two other picks, Trey Burke and Alec Burks.
That core will help Utah stay in the playoff picture for years to come.
Point guard Shelvin Mack has been a real find for the Jazz. They acquired him at the deadline for basically a second round pick, and he's putting up career high in points (12.5), assists (5.7) and rebounds (3.8) after shuttling among three teams in five years and never before getting such a chance to play.
On the other hand, the Suns have struggled with their rebuild attempts. Two years ago (with Hayward, Kanter, Favors and Burks already in the fold), the Jazz decided to build entirely with youth, and swallowed the bad years that come with a rebuild of that nature.
The Suns continue to try to reach the playoffs and rebuild at the same time. While the Jazz went all-in after failing the Suns strategy for a couple years, the Suns are now on year six of the beat-your-head-against-the-wall strategy.
Now, the Suns are relying on Eric Bledsoe's health, Alex Len's head, T.J. Warren's moxie, Devin Booker's maturity and a couple more good drafts to become the next team that rises from the ashes after an ugly fall from grace.
For now, the Jazz are what the Suns ought to want to become in 2017 or 2018. Do it the right way, draft the right kids, don't get impatient, and let the team grow at the pace it's supposed to grow.
Looks like Jon Leuer (ankle) might be out again, and don't expect to see Brandon Knight (groin).
For the Jazz, both Favors and Burks are questionable today. We'll hear more later.
This is a pretty short prediction.
The Jazz will almost certainly win this game. They are motivated to make the playoffs, and have been a really bad matchup for the Suns all year.
If the Suns follow recent trends, they will make it a game through the middle of the fourth and then tighten up just enough to allow the Jazz to finish them off.
But then again, Sundays have been bad to the Suns this year. Especially matinees. The Suns are 3-8 on Sundays this season, while the Jazz are 4-2.
Could be a bad one.