When: 6 PM. AZ Time
Where: Delta Center, Salt Lake City, Utah
Watch: Arizona’s Family 3TV, NBATV
Listen: 98.7 FM
Who is ready for some weekend Suns basketball? Phoenix visits Utah, a team they defeated on Friday night, for the second in the baseball-style series. A victory would push the Suns’ winning streak to three games, which is officially a streak.
It was a quality win on Friday, although giving up 128 points to Utah isn’t what you would classify as “ideal”. The defense needs some attention as Frank Vogel is looking to deploy his philosophies and methodologies with an ever-changing starting lineup.
Injuries have created fluctuation, but with Bradley Beal officially going on the shelf for the next three weeks, Phoenix can focus on creating stability. That stability has come in the form of starting both Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon. Since Vogel has made this tweak to the starting lineup — and having Devin Booker back from injury — the Suns have rattled off two consecutive wins.
- Yuta Watanabe (left quad contusion) is QUESTIONABLE
- Bradley Beal (back) is OUT
- Damion Lee (knee) is OUT
- Walker Kessler (elbow) is OUT
Suns Things to Watch For
I emphasized in my most recent ‘Stephen’s Study’ how in control Devin Booker has become with his playmaking, and how well-equipped he is at the helm. As a result of the playoff-style two-game slate the Suns have with the Jazz, it gives the opportunity to see adjustments made from both teams.
I’m curious what adjustments the Jazz make in their coverage of both Booker and Durant. They conceded plenty of early help in gaps and general earl block and elbow support in gaps to shrink the floor.
Will they mix in more double teams? Will they lean more into their block-and-elbows shifts?
Will Utah mix in more zone? They’ve run 67 zone possessions on the season, the 3rd most of any team so far. Zooming in even more, after watching all 67 of them, I tallied 38 of them (56.7%) featuring Walker Kessler, their center who’s currently out. The 2-3 kept him near the basket for rim protection and insulated well from the perimeter.
Under Will Hardy, the Jazz have also used double teams within their 2-3 to get the ball out of the opposing team's best players' hands in pivotal moments, so this is a dynamic to keep an eye out for, surely.
The Jazz have also used the switch-and-double scheme, one we’ve broken down and the Suns are familiar with operating against too.
Aside from isolations, Durant as a screener — a layer within his usage that I highlighted, and spoke to desiring seeing more of from him — would shine through against the Jazz switches.
I’m also curious as to how “up to the test” the Suns defense will be with their switches again, especially when Lauri Markkanen is involved in action, as it compromised them numerous times, like below:
I spoke recently about their switches being essentially a barometer for them in regards to where they are chemistry-wise, they’ll again have plenty of opportunities to build, as the Jazz and their 5-out offense consistently keep defenses in these scenarios.
Keys to a Win
It comes down to three areas:
- Ball security: The Suns coupled their season-high in assists (35) with their season-low in turnovers (8), exemplifying how better ball security can even offset their lacking defensive continuity at times.
- Defensive connectedness: I mentioned their woes with switches above, mitigating the pockets where they’re soft or disconnected there specifically, can take them incrementally to higher levels defensively. Sustaining more success there is imperative.
- 3-point shooting: The Suns knocked down a near season-high in makes (18) and percentage (54.5) from deep. Keeping their attempts fruitful in efficiency on volume, to keep pace math-wise with how Utah attacks, will need the detail displayed on Friday as well.
The Suns win 118-109 and climb back above .500 as they extend their win streak to three.
The Suns starters (Booker/Allen/Gordon/Durant/Nurkic) were +6 with a true shooting percentage of 80.8 in 13:33 of play on Friday. That lineup was solid, but their best lineup was the Booker + reserves (Goodwin/Little/Bates-Diop/Eubanks) was +11. They’d go on a 9-2 run to close the third, stretched across slightly over three minutes, in a pocket of the game where they’d compile multiple stops.
In fact, the lineup was so good that Vogel only broke their run to close the third and get two shooters — Durant and Allen — to close the third with the last shot.
He’d reinsert that exact lineup again, to open the fourth, and they’d pick up where they left off, compiling stops and scores with a lead that they garnered. The switching was connected, more communicative, and they were active on the glass.
This group slowed the pace down a ton, minimized possessions, and was scrappy defensively. Seeing this lineup more, as this was its first time featured, is something to look forward to — that could become a mainstay.