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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns host surging Utah Jazz

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The Phoenix Suns return to the U.S. to host the Utah Jazz, a team on a hunt for a top seed in the West.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host Utah Jazz

When: 7:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


After going 1-1 in their home stand in Mexico City, the Phoenix Suns (13-27) return to the United States for a home game at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, where they are 7-10 on the season.

Two days ago, the Suns snapped a 9-game losing streak to one-time arch rival San Antonio Spurs with an inspired fourth quarter. The win over the Spurs wasn’t the first win since one-eyed Steve Nash finished off the four-game sweep in 2010, but it sure feels like it. And to take the lead while playing rookies Dragan Bender and Tyler Ulis, then seal it with scoring from wunderkind Devin Booker was a special treat.

But before you get your hopes up too high for tonight’s game, the Suns are 0-5 on Mondays this season and are 0-6 in their last six matchups against the surging Utah Jazz (26-16).

After tonight, the Suns have a tough stretch of road games and/or opponents they have a tough time beating in any conditions, let alone this year (Cavaliers, Knicks, Raptors, Wolves, Nuggets, Grizzlies, Clippers).

For now, let’s focus on tonight’s opponent.

The Jazz (26-16)

These guys are good and getting better.

Ever since they traded Enes Kanter and installed Rudy Gobert as their full-time center, the Jazz have had one of the league’s best defenses with one of its youngest cores.

Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, Trey Lyles and Dante Exum are all 25 or younger and have a very bright future together.

But they could not win consistently until they supplemented the young core with veterans George Hill (30), Boris Diaw (34) and Joe Johnson (35). Hill has missed a lot time with injuries and Diaw/JJ don’t play big minutes, but their presence in the locker room has been very helpful to the young squad.

The surprise of the season has been Joe Ingles, the 29-year old third-year Aussie who happens to be THE league’s best three-point shooter this year at 45% on 2.9 attempts per game. And when the Suns and Jazz played a couple weeks ago, you could see that his size on the wing (6’8”, 226) helped the Jazz bother and shut down Devin Booker after a sizzling start. Booker had 18 first-quarter points, but only two after that.

Here’s some fun stats on the Jazz.

Good luck tonight, Suns.

One more note:

Rodney Hood left Saturday’s win over Detroit with a leg injury, reported initially as a hyperextension and now called a bone bruise. He is reportedly OUT for Monday’s game.

The Suns (13-27)

Three weeks after benching Jared Dudley indefinitely in order to play the rookies more minutes, an interesting development occurred on Sunday.

Brandon Knight did not come off the bench at all, with rookie Tyler Ulis getting his second-unit minutes in both halves (14.1 total minutes). Recently, Knight’s minutes had reduced to mostly first-half time, with Ulis getting second-half backup PG minutes. On Saturday, at least for one night, it became full time.

There may be some correlation to Knight’s benching with this comment on Watson in a Dan Bickley article from Mexico City.

During his stay in Mexico City, Watson admitted he receives frequent coaching pointers from Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich.

Buford recently sat Watson down and stressed the need for having “non-negotiable” rules with his young team. Watson responded by telling his players that if they don’t want to play defense, “they can sit down next to me and we’ll talk about it.”

On Saturday night, after getting that advice, Knight did not see the floor at all. Watson has recently praised Ulis’ defense, particularly when asked why Knight’s minutes has been dwindling lately.

In the same game, neither T.J. Warren nor Marquese Chriss saw any fourth quarter action, while Devin Booker - who doesn’t play defense either - got more minutes than usual because of his hot shooting. Maybe Booker is the exception to the rule, especially since he scored 78 points in two games.

Prediction

As mentioned above, the Suns are 0-5 on Mondays, and 0-6 against the Jazz the last season-plus. On top of that, they are likely mentally “hung over” from the week in Mexico and will probably come out sluggish in the first half. Against the stifling Jazz, that could spell disaster.

But if recent Suns games are any indication, they will make a game of it in the second half no matter what, and Watson will be once again faced with a quandary of “do I go for the win with the guys I trust in Chandler/Tucker/Barbosa? Or do I cross my fingers, hope for the best, and throw Ulis/Bender/Chriss out there again in crunch time?”

We shall see.

I predict a solid Jazz win either way.