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Game Preview: Suns go for best start in franchise history vs. struggling Utah Jazz

If the Suns win on Monday night, their 37-9 record would be best in the Suns 54-year franchise history

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

What: Utah Jazz (30-17) at Phoenix Suns (36-9)

When: Monday night, 7:00 PM AZ time

Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix AZ

Watch: Bally Sports AZ, NBA-TV

Listen: 98.7 FM

The Utah Jazz come to Phoenix in a deep funk, having lost 7 of their last 9 games including a buzzer-losing loss to the Warriors on Sunday night where two Jazz shots to win or tie the game missed the mark as time expired in a 94-92 loss. The Jazz have now dropped to 4th in the West, behind the Suns, Warriors and Grizzlies.

The Suns, on the other hand, have put together a 6-game winning streak and could tie a 15-year old mark for the best start in franchise history with a win over the Jazz on Monday night. A win would give the Suns a 37-9 record, tying the 2006-07 Suns. Note of caution: That SSOL team lost 4 of their next 6 games as they weathered a short-term Nash injury, and finished 61-21 to grab the conference’s top seed before that bloody second round loss to the eventual NBA champ Spurs.

The Suns actual best start in franchise history, if you don’t stop at the exact 45-game mark, is the 1994-95 team who got to 40-11 — with a win over the Jazz, no less — and were labeled the best team in basketball before losing Danny Manning to a bad knee injury. That team, sans Manning, lost in the second round to the eventual NBA champ Rockets.

Oof. Maybe I shouldn’t have included those two footnotes...

These Suns are on pace for a 65-win season, which would be the best in team history and topping the 62-win best of the SSOL and Barkley years.

Injury Updates

Phoenix Suns

  • Deandre Ayton (ankle sprain) is DOUBTFUL, missed last 3 games
  • Jae Crowder (wrist contusion) is OUT with day-to-day status
  • Cameron Payne (wrist sprain) is OUT with day-to-day status
  • Abdel Nader (knee soreness) is OUT, missed last 30 games on day-to-day status
  • Frank Kaminsky (knee, stress reaction) is OUT, missed last 32 games on day-to-day status
  • Dario Saric (knee, ACL surgery rehab) is OUT, missed whole season

Not sure what the difference is between contusion and sprain here, for Jae and Cam. They both landed hard after drives to the rim. When the Suns last used ‘contusion’, Deandre Ayton’s knee contusion kept him out two weeks. On the other hand, Abdel Nader’s knee ‘soreness’ later turned into ‘injury management’ and has caused him to miss two months now.

Utah Jazz

  • Donovan Mitchell (concussion protocol) is OUT
  • Rudy Gobert (calf strain) was hurt late in last night’s game, likely to miss today’s game
  • Hassan Whiteside (conditioning, post-COVID) has missed time, but status unknown as of this morning

Probable Starters

Both teams are likely missing a pair of starters and a key backup.

Key Matchup

Well, the Gobert/Ayton matchup won’t happen and neither will the Booker/Mitchell matchup.

And with Gobert and Mitchell out, the matchup of the league’s No. 1 offense (Jazz) against the league’s No. 2 defense (Suns) won’t be quite the same either.

So let’s focus on the All-Star point guard battle of Mike Conley Jr. vs. Chris Paul. Conley and Paul both made the 2021 All-Star game (Conley’s first, Paul’s 10th) and have made very successful careers of running the show for perennial playoff teams as two-play players who can shoot, pass and defend with the best of them. Conley guides the league’s best offense, while Paul’s Suns are up to 5th in offense.

The difference between these teams this year is on the defensive end, where Conley doesn’t shine quite as bright as Paul anymore. Even with Rudy Gobert healthy and manning the paint, the Jazz are ranked only 10th on defense this season. Take Gobert out (calf strain) and the Jazz might suffer badly. Certainly Rudy, who is still a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, has been critical of his team’s effort on defense this season outside of himself.

Let’s break it down.

“When I watch some of these other teams like the Suns or the Warriors, those guys are a step ahead of us in terms of winning habits.”

Suns and Warriors are 1 and 2 in defensive ranking this year, despite losing some of their best defensive players at times. The Suns have been able to maintain a top-5 defense while mixing and matching at center when Ayton is out (four different times this year now). The Warriors lean heavily on Draymond Green for their defense, but still rank 2nd overall in the 11 games Dray has missed (calf strain, related to disc in back).

“They take every game personally. Devin Booker is playing his ass off defensively. I’ve been watching him compared to two years ago. Guys like that, they buy in, and you can tell they take pride in playing defense and stopping their man, doing whatever they can defensively to stop the other team and be a part of a winning culture.”

This is clearly a subtweet/message to his perimeter defenders, and by mentioning Devin Booker you can guess he’s pointing at least partially to All-Star teammate Donovan Mitchell’s efforts on that end.

The Jazz had jumped from 13th on D two years ago to 3rd last year as they had the best record in the league, but are only ranked 10th this year.

“I think we are not there yet, but I think we’re gonna get there.”

Since Rudy’s comments on January 14, they split a pair of games (win over Nuggets, loss to Lakers). But Mitchell suffered a concussion in the Lakers game and has missed their loss to the Rockets, win over Pistons and last-second loss to the Dray-less, Klay-less Warriors.

Tonight, they play the Suns almost certainly without either of Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell.

Which is why the key matchup now is the point guard battle of Mike Conley Jr. vs. Chris Paul.


All signs point to a Suns win to tie their best start in franchise history.

I’d guess Suns 120, Jazz 100

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