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Utah Jazz stand between Phoenix Suns and All-Star break

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The Jazz took the last meeting 129-97; Donovan Mitchell scored 40

Utah Jazz v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz

Time: 7 pm (Phoenix time)

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


Today is the final Holidays with Deadpoolio before the All-Star break, but it’s a significant one. That’s right. Today is Valentine’s Day. For all of you who have significant others, make sure you let them know how much they’re loved, or you will pay…dearly.

Personally, Deadpoolio is feeling a little glum this Valentine’s Day. I had a whole romantic evening planned for me and my significant other, but Death informed me she can’t make it. Turns out she heard the Suns taking their last gasps and now has to wait around to claim their desiccated viscera. You have no idea how many heart-shaped chimichangas I made for this. Sigh….

The Phoenix Suns (18-40) will try to enter the All-Star break with at least a shred of dignity as they square off against the red-hot Utah Jazz (29-28).

Jazz Update

The Jazz have won 10 games in a row, most recently topping the San Antonio Spurs 101-99 on Monday night. Their recent surge has them looking like serious contenders for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture mere weeks after they were rumored to be contemplating a fire sale at the trade deadline.

Many around the NBA wrote off Utah when Gordon Hayward bolted town, but they have been buoyed by an unlikely source — rookie Donovan Mitchell. The Western Conference Rookie of the Month for both December and January, he is now a serious contender for Rookie of the Year, locked in a two-man race with the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons. Mitchell leads Utah at 19.5 points per game and is the first rookie since Blake Griffin to record two games of 40-plus points. His rookie PER of 17.0 is higher than other notable Jazz rookies Darrell Griffith (14.7), Karl Malone (13.7), John Stockton (13.3), Deron Williams (12.4), and Hayward (10.7). As impressive as Mitchell has been, though, he hasn’t done it alone. Ricky Rubio is averaging a career-high 12.3 points per game, although his assists are down almost two per game from his previous career low. Rudy Gobert has averaged 12.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks but has missed 26 games this season. Derrick Favors is averaging 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, and Joe Ingles is putting up 10.8 points on 45.7-percent shooting from long distance. Jae Crowder has played in just two games since being acquired at the trade deadline from the Cleveland Cavaliers but has averaged 14.5 points for his new team. Alec Burks had a strong stretch of play in late November/early December but has struggled since.

During this 10-game win streak, the Jazz have held their opponents to 43.3 percent shooting from the field and 29.9 percent from 3. That has translated into an opponent scoring average of 98.1 points per game. Contrast those numbers with their own stats of 49-percent shooting from the field, 45.3-percent shooting from 3, and an average of 112 points per game, and it quickly becomes apparent why Utah has rattled off this win streak.

Team Leaders

Points: Donovan Mitchell (19.5)

Rebounds: Rudy Gobert (9.9)

Assists: Ricky Rubio (5.2)

Suns Update

The Suns come into tonight riding a season-high six-game losing streak and have dropped 11 of their past 12 after another humiliating 40-whatever-point loss, this time to the Golden State Warriors. A loss tonight would mean they would enter the All-Star break with at least a share of the NBA’s worst record.

Let’s take a moment to talk about what the team has seemed interested in talking about lately — respect. Some Suns, most notably Troy Daniels, took exception to Warriors coach Steve Kerr allowing his players to run timeouts and diagram plays in the huddle on Monday night. They said it was disrespectful, specifically. No, it wasn’t. What’s disrespectful is that this team owns half of the 40-point losses in the league this season. And they have the gall to talk about whether another team respects them? Look, if you want to stop being made fun of, then quit being so make-funable. Don’t expect the other team to spare your feelings and take it easy on you; go out there and earn your respect.

Chris Webber, during a Tuesday teleconference call, said of the Suns’ complaints, “For you to even be on a losing team and to mention how you lost and how it’s unfair shows me you have been on those teams that got trophies for just coming to the tournament. Participation trophies. We don’t cry about losing like that in the NBA.”

Added Reggie Miller: “That’s the problem with these young guys. You can’t be sensitive. Stop crying. Play better and work harder together. How about that?”

Of all the Suns, it would figure that veteran Tyson Chandler would have the proper perspective on the situation. “It’s the same thing as in football when defenses get mad because they say you ran the score up,” Chandler said. “Stop them. That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. You feel that way, come in here, work on your game, get better and make sure that [expletive] don’t happen again.”

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (24.1)

Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.5)

Assists: Elfrid Payton (7.0)

Injury Report

Devin Booker (Suns): left hip pointer (QUESTIONABLE)

Tyson Chandler (Suns): sore neck (QUESTIONABLE)

Troy Daniels (Suns): finger injury (QUESTIONABLE)

Brandon Knight (Suns): torn left ACL (OUT)

Tyler Ulis (Suns): back spasms (PROBABLE)

Alan Williams (Suns): torn right meniscus (OUT)

Dante Exum (Jazz): left shoulder surgery (OUT)

Ricky Rubio (Jazz): left hip injury (QUESTIONABLE)

Thabo Sefolosha (Jazz): torn right MCL (OUT)

Game Preview

It’s fair to say the last meeting didn’t go the Suns’ way. The Jazz crushed the Suns 129-97 in Phoenix on Feb. 2, avenging their own 97-88 defeat in the desert back on Oct. 25. Mitchell was a man among boys that night, scoring 40 points to go along with six assists and five rebounds — not to mention his gaudy shooting percentages (14 of 19 from the field, 7 of 9 from 3, 5 of 5 from the stripe). The Jazz were just beginning this winning streak during that game, however. Now they are starting their days with big bowls of Confidence Loops and could very well steamroll a flagging Suns squad expected to see star Devin Booker shelved yet again. Who will step up and put the brakes on Mitchell? Elfrid Payton? Josh Jackson? Superman? It’s disappointing to say this, but a focused Jazz team blows the hinges off Phoenix tonight. The Suns just aren’t right mentally.

Key Matchup

Josh Jackson vs. Donovan Mitchell

This wasn’t much of a matchup on Feb. 2. Mitchell scored his aforementioned 40 points on 19 shots while Jackson had 20 points on 18 shots. It wasn’t a bad showing for Jackson but not the kind of disparity you want to see from a No. 4 pick against a No. 13 pick. Coming off a bad game against the Warriors, Jackson needs to bounce back and assert himself against arguably the top rookie of the 2017-18 season. Mitchell has scored 25 or more points in three straight games, so Jackson will especially need to display his defensive focus here tonight. If he lets Spyda turn this into a laugher again, the Suns are sunk.

Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)

The worst loss in NBA history came when the Cleveland Cavaliers pounded the Miami Heat into oblivion, 148-80, on Dec. 17, 1991.

I have no idea why I would bring this up. None at all.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.