What: Phoenix (3-1) vs. Utah Jazz (2-1)
When: 7:00 p.m. MST
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Utah
Watch: NBATV, FSAZ
Listen: 98.7 FM
Who is ready for some Suns basketball to close out the year?! Let’s put 2020 in the rearview.
The games might not have counted, but there was plenty to learn about the Utah Jazz when the Suns played them in the preseason just shy of three weeks ago. The Jazz, who ended the 2019-20 campaign losing in 7 games against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Frist Round as the #6 seed, defeated the Suns in both contests, winning 119-105 on December 12 and 111-92 on December 14.
That was then. This is now. And now it counts. It is an early season encounter that could be the preview of a playoff matchup. But we have a long way to go until we get there, now don’t we?
The Suns are starting a lineup that is 3-1 as a unit. The team is 21st in scoring with 109 ppg and 1st in opp/ppg at 98.5.
Similarly, the Jazz will start the same five that have them at 2-1 on the season, posting 113.7 ppg and allowing 108.3 ppg to opponents.
Didn’t those City Edition jerseys pop on Tuesday night? My only mistake this holiday season was not purchasing a Mikal Bridges jersey.
A fun follow on Twitter is @nbaunitracker, a site dedicated to keeping you update on who is wearing what, as well as what teams’ records are in different threads. Per their research, for the fourth time this season, the Suns will don their Association Edition white jerseys in Salt Lake City.
Abdel Nader continues to await his Suns debut as he is still out with concussion issues. Jalen Smith remains day-to-day. The Jazz have no one listed on their injury report.
Although they didn’t make of a splash this offseason, the Jazz are a team that has the pieces to make a run not only to the NBA Playoffs, but in them as well. The team possesses length and scoring, defensive prowess and shooting. They led the NBA in 3PT% last season at 38.0% and are currently 3rd in the league in attempts (40 per-game). Expect plenty of shots from long range on New Year’s Eve.
After defeating the Portland Trailblazers by 20 points to start the season and losing by 5 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Jazz narrowly defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder this past Monday, 110-109. Mitchell had 12 of his 20 points in the 4th quarter, including what proved to be the game winner.
❄️ ❄️ #SloMoPlay | @lhmauto pic.twitter.com/IuWqBYK1Aa— utahjazz (@utahjazz) December 29, 2020
Mitchell enters the game averaging 20.3 points-per-game, albeit on three contests. He has been inefficient thus far, shooting 32.3% from the field and 27.6% from deep. One thing you know about Donovan is, hit or miss, he will keep on shooting.
The mid-season acquisition of Jordan Clarkson last year proved to be beneficial and the Sixth-Man contender is instant offense coming off of the bench. He is averaging 18 points-per-game in 23.7 minutes-per-game thus far which equates to a hefty 27.4 points-per-36-minutes. Yikes. The Suns bench has played well offensively against weaker second-team units. The Jazz do not fall into this category.
Size will be the primary challenge in this one. The battle for the boards, the ability to generate fouls on bigs; Utah possesses both. The Jazz out-rebounded the Suns in the two preseason games by a count of 99 to 85. Rudy Golbert is a presence and as is his backup Derrick Favors.
The Suns enter Thursday night’s game 3-1, their best start since 2014. They play tonight against the Jazz then hop on a jet and make the 371-mile (and 1,054 foot elevation increase) flight to Denver to play the Nuggets on New Year’s Day.
The team has impressed with their ball movement (9th in assists) while maintaining ball security (3rd in turnovers). The offense is multi-faceted with numerous weapons, most notably on the outside. The team shot a franchise-high 47 three-pointers on Tuesday against the Pelicans. 44.1% of their shots are coming from behind the arc (quite the different philosophy as that number was 36.1% last season).
What is intriguing about the Suns is, due to Devin Booker and Chris Paul’s gravity, those shots are open. 39.5% of the Suns’ 3PA are considered “open” (defender 4-6 feet away) or “wide open” (defender 6 or more feet away). Credit the way Monty has designed the offense to take advantage of his stable of shooters.
The pick-and-roll has yet to be perfected, most notably between CP3 and Deandre Ayton. It will be interesting to see if the Suns will continue to work on this aspect of their playbook with Rudy Golbert roaming the paint.
The Suns have shown the ability to sustain offense with the second team, outscoring opponents 141-103 in their three wins. Their loss to the Kings last Saturday was their only game in which the opposing second-team unit outplayed them, scoring 13 more bench points than Phoenix.
For more on the Suns, check these over the last couple of days:
Keys to a Suns Win
Perimeter defense is hard to control. Even with a hand in the face of the opponent, the quality of professional shooters in the NBA still make their shots. They aren’t often phased by some dude running at them with their hand raised. The Suns have been lucky as the three-ball hasn’t hurt them yet this year (the opposition is shooting 25.2%, 29th in the league).
This game has the potential to become a shootout as Utah likes to fire from long-range. What will be key to the Suns’ success is rebounding on both ends. With plenty of three’s flying through the 4,226-foot high atmosphere, there will be misses. What is vital is that the Suns avoid allowing Utah second-chance opportunities, and in the same breath, create extra possessions via rebounding.
How do you predict this one with anything but positivity? The Suns, even in their one loss, have looked like a team continuing to gel. The can defend. They can (and will shoot). They have grit. They have personality.
It will be a grind undoubtedly as the Jazz are a quality opponent and a good measuring stick in the Western Conference. Their frontline will test the Suns, but with Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky in uniform, the Suns have the depth to challenge them.
ESPN’s PickCenter has the Suns as +3.5 point dogs. I speak for the majority of optimistic Suns’ fans when I pass on that line. Mikal Bridges will do something amazing in the 4th and the Suns will pull out a victory on the road.
Suns 105, Jazz 99