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Preview: Suns take on the Jazz in Salt Lake City

The Jazz are one of the few teams that Phoenix has yet to play this season.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The Game: Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz

The Time: 7:00 pm (Phoenix time)

The Place: Vivint Smart Home Arena

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM/1400 AM (Spanish)


It seems a bit odd that with the season already two-thirds gone, the Suns will only now face the Utah Jazz for the first time... and they may do it without Devin Booker.

Booker was pulled out of Monday’s game with Houston with a hamstring issue. After the game, he spoke about it to the media, “Just a little tightness. Just caught it before anything gets further than it was, but it will be fine.” Hopefully he wasn’t understating the problem and the Suns were being overly cautious by sitting him for the rest of the game but we won’t know for sure until more information on his condition is released. He’s presently listed as “questionable” for tonight’s game.

There might be more than injured players missing from this game — on both teams — as the NBA trade deadline is tomorrow at 3:00 pm ET. Suns fans are well aware of the possibility that some of their team’s players might be moved in a potential tree team trade with the Lakers and Pelicans but the Jazz are also trying to make some trades.

If any of the potential trades are deemed likely to happen, players that are likely to be traded will be held out. That could have an impact on the outcome but, as nothing is certain so far, I’ll set those considerations aside for now.

Jazz

Stats: OffRtg - 107.9 (20th), DefRtg - 105.5 (5th), NetRtg - plus 2.4 (10th)

Probable Starting Lineup: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Rudy Gobert

Injury report: Dante Exum (ankle) - out, Tony Bradley (knee) - out, Raul Neto (groin) - game time decision, Thabo Sefolosha (hamstring) - game time decision.

Utah, as always, is a tough defensive team. Rudy Gobert guards the paint (tied for 3rd with 2.2 blcks per game) as he also gobbles up rebounds (12.8 per game, 5th in the NBA). They are 7th in opponent’s points in the paint, tid for 4th in opponent’s second chance points and 2nd in preventing opponents from scoring fast break points.

On offense, they come back down to earth though (20th). Donovan Mitchell is their main offensive threat but they have six other players averaging 10-15 ppg. The Jazz are not a great three point shooting team (34.3%, 24th) but still have 37 year old Kyle Korver coming off the bench to nail 40.7% of his attempts.

The Jazz are also tied for 24th in turnovers (15.3 per game) and 24th for opponent’s scoring off turnovers (17.7 ppg). Unfortunately for the Suns, they are worse in both of those categories than the Jazz (28th and 29th respectively) so it’s doubtful that they can take advantage of either.

Utah is a middle of the road rebounding team (even with Gobert) at 16th but with the Suns dead last in rebounding the advantage goes the other way.

The Jazz will also be well rested as they haven’t played since Saturday.

Team Leaders

Points: Donovan Mitchell (22.4)

Rebounds: Rudy Gobert (12.8)

Assists: Ricky Rubio (6.1)

Suns

Stats: OffRtg - 104.4 (28th), DefRtg - 113.6 (29th), NetRtg - minus 9.2 (28th)

Probable Starting Lineup: Elie Okobo, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr., Deandre Ayton

Injury report: T.J. Warren (ankle) - out, De’Anthony Melton (ankle) - out, Devin Booker (hamstring) - game time decision.

I won’t beat around the bush. A fully healthy Suns team would have a difficult time with the Jazz on their home court. With Devin Booker possibly out, what was an uphill climb could become more like an attempt to scale an almost vertical wall.

For the Suns to have any chance in this game, they are going to have play that tough, hustling defense that we’ve only seen infrequent glimpses of all game long. They’ve also going to need players such as Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges equal - or surpass - some of their best offensive outings of the season.

Deandre Ayton is also going to have to not be ‘star struck’ in his first game vs Rudy Gobert. He will need to adapt quickly to a new challenge and at least perform up to his season averages of 16.3 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (24.9)

Rebounds: Deandre Ayton (10.6)

Assists: Devin Booker (6.7)

Summary

As I mentioned in the beginning, as both Phoenix and Utah have been involved in trade talks, players from either or possibly both teams might be pull from the lineups tonight in anticipation of a trade going through on Thursday. If that happens, I think it’s more likely to adversely affect the Jazz than the Suns but it still might not make much of a difference.

Prediction: Suns lose 98-89 in a low scoring game.