Jazz, Suns Go Back To ‘College’




One and done. It’s one of the few advantages college basketball has over the NBA in a lot of folks’ eyes, all that single-elimination excitement and anxiety all balled up together.

Basically, it’s win-or-go-home time.

The NBA offers up something similar when the Phoenix Suns face the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City tonight (10:30 ET, TNT), less by design than by a happy confluence of schedules, records and survival to this point in the hectic post-lockout season.

If Utah wins, it is in, nabbing the eighth and final spot in the West. If Phoenix wins, it is (almost) in, factoring in some final brinksmanship by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.

Let’s be clear: Only the Jazz can clinch tonight. A victory at Energy Solutions Arena would leave Utah at 35-30 and Phoenix at 33-32, each with one game left.

But if Phoenix wins — the way it has won the past seven meetings in this series — the teams would be tied at 34-31. The Suns hold the tiebreaker already, thanks to their 2-0 mark head-to-head, with victories on March 14 and April 4.

The Suns are 14-18 on the road, though they have won four in a row in Salt Lake City. Utah is 23-8 at home, winning the past four. But the last time the Jazz beat Phoenix anywhere, Jerry Sloan was their coach and his starting five was Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. It’s been 25 months.

“We got to go into Utah – tough environment, tough atmosphere, tough team – and we got to win,” Suns guard Shannon Brown told reporters.

Said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin: “You control your own destiny. You’re not looking to anybody else to back into it. It’s all on us to do what we need to do.”

Wait. So how does Popovich figure into all of this? He doesn’t — unless Phoenix wins tonight. Then it wraps up the season at home Wednesday against Popovich’s Spurs.

With the West’s top seed already assured, Popovich might be tempted — actually, should feel obliged — to send to Phoenix a team consisting of four bench players, a blogger, one equipment bag, a potted plant, two bottles of a nice chianti and some fava beans.

The fact is, Popovich owes Phoenix one after not taking Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to a road game in Salt Lake City on April 9. The undermanned Spurs scored only 84 points that night and, though it was close in the fourth quarter, Popovich essentially handed the Jazz a victory.

In fairness, he ought to give the Suns the same opportunity just to avoid gaming the playoffs. Then he could present Phoenix with a very different San Antonio squad in a few days when they meet in a 1-8 series.

Again, this only matters if Phoenix were to finish 2-0. If it won, then lost to the Spurs, the No. 8 spot would hinge on what Utah does Thursday in Salt Lake City against Portland, a team the Jazz are 3-0 against this season.

Utah is 6-4 in its last 10 games, including an overtime victory Saturday in which Orlando’s Jameer Nelson ran wild (23 points, 11 assists). The Jazz trailed by 13 early, so coping with Steve Nash might be an issue – again.

Averaging 12.5 points and 10.8 assists, Nash ranks second in the NBA in the latter category and is chasing a level of marksmenship – 50 percent field-goal shooting, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the foul line – that he has achieved four times previously. Everyone else in NBA history has done it a combined five times.

The Jazz has some weapons of its own, notably up front (Western Conference playoff of the week Al Jefferson) and with Devin Harris and Gordon Hayward combining in April games for 35.7 points, 10.0 assists and 6.1 rebounds.

The way Nash is playing and his determination to get to the postseason (after a 12-19 start this season) has been one of the big stories of the NBA’s second half. One of its big stories for the better part of two decades, actually.

“He’s run the pick-and-roll for 20 years now or whatever it is,” Utah assistant coach Jeff Hornacek told the Salt Lake Tribune. “He’s like John Stockton in terms of, no matter how you guard him, he has an adjustment for it … There is not one thing you can do against that guy.”

Nash is right on his numbers against Utah this season: 12.5 ppg, 12.5 assists, 53.8 percent FG shooting, 3-of-7 3-pointers, 8-of-8 free throws. Phoenix won handily at home in March, 120-111, then got two clutch baskets by Nash in the final seconds of the 107-105 victory in Salt Lake City.

That one nudged Phoenix past Utah for ninth place in the West at the time.

The nudge this time will be a lot bigger, for one or the other.


20 Comments

  1. matt says:

    this is going to be a great game! i have the suns doing the diligence though tonight! check out my playoff breakdown: http://www.mindofmattman.com/2012/04/nba-playoff-breakdownseeds-2-8.html

  2. CP3estimator says:

    The way Nash is playing is just sick,38 years old and still plays at such a high level,you gotta give him a lot of credit for that.If Suns clinch a playoff spot we’ll be in for a hell of a series,suns still know how to run and attack the basket but the spurs since the All star break have been overwhelming and they’ll do damage to the championship dreams of all the top contenders out west.

  3. charles says:

    Utah is got so many big men – Jefferson, Milsap, Favors, Kanter. They need to slow this game and take advantage of their height/weight advantage. Meanwhile, they have to keep the ball out of Nash’s hands. The less he touches it they better off they are and the slower the pace.

  4. vamos a la playa says:

    correct, yave M.
    popovich gave a rest to his old three and utah won the match and that’s why corbin’s steam still have a chance.
    btw i believe that they are a better and more balanced team compared to the suns.
    the frontcourt with big al and millsap could create some problems to the spurs but at the end players like green, leonard, splitter, gary neal, captain jack, boris diaw will make the difference with their freshness..
    i just don’t see the upset.

  5. el duro says:

    interesting match. whoever go to the playoffs would get eliminated anyways i dont see spurs losing to either the jazz or phoenix.

  6. Yave M says:

    Frankly the Suns should be the ones who get the chance to clinch the 8th spot.Popovich should’ve put Timmy Manu and Parker to play vs Utah.So if Phoenix wins tonight’s game San Antonio shouldn’t play the big 3 to give the opportunity for Phoenix to clinch.Besides they clinched the west anyway.

  7. Mr_Know_It_ALL says:

    I HOPE THE SUNS GET IN SIMPLY BECAUSE OF STEVE NASH

  8. Zachisclueless says:

    @ Zach Gillette, How are the Jazz irrelevant? They’ve won games this season against heat, suns, thunder, mavs, lakers, clips ,bulls, and actually every team in the playoffs right now.. The suns wouldnt win 1 game vs the spurs, and im willing to bet the Jazz at least make it a good series.

  9. Ryan says:

    The Jazz can do way more damage in the playoffs than the suns. Poor Zach Gillette. Doesn’t understand the game. Three point shooting doesn’t win playoff games. The dirty work on the inside does. Keep working at it though and someday you’ll have a grasp on basketball. :)

  10. #1 Jazz Fan says:

    The Jazz fought a lot this season to make it this far, they’re not going to let themselves lose to probably be eliminated from the Playoffs. The Jazz are such a young team that they could make a difference in the Playoffs. They haven’t played well against the Spurs, in which they would face in the first round, but they could make a 7 game series against them. It would be interesting to see what happens tonight on TNT! WE ARE UTAH JAZZ

    • Zach Gillette says:

      Dude the Jazz are completely irrelevant. I’d give the Suns way more of a chance to do playoff damage than the Jazz.

      • Beau says:

        Going to agree with you Zach. Utah Jazz like #1 Jazz Fan said are a young team. I think they have the advantage tonight but it dosn’t change the fact that the Suns would have a better shot once in the playoffs. Being young isn’t what wins playoff games its having the exp. Having said that I’m a jazz fan, so I hope I’m wronge ;)

      • Masward says:

        I’m sure the Jazz will show you just how “relevant” they are when they win tonight. Utah’s bench is even deeper than before with Raja and Howard returning and now that Corbin knows his secret weapon is Mills at the 3 with Favors in, they can and will compete with any team in the NBA minus the Heat and Thunder. Just watch it all happen like jigsaws falling into place.

      • Taylor Langston says:

        The Jazz don’t get a lot of attention but they can play with anybody. They’re young and hungry with a lot of talent that doesn’t get noticed because they don’t have that ONE superstar with a huge ego. Damage can be done.

  11. Wes says:

    Now tell me the forfeit by SAS to the Jazz didn’t effect competitive balance.

  12. Chris says:

    I was at Utah’s game on Saturday in Salt Lake. That arena is LOUD, and the fans are rowdy. But I’m a Suns fan, and it sounds like their record in Utah is on their side.

  13. jbq2 says:

    Williams, Boozer, Kirilenko, Mathews, Okur, now that was a lineup. Kanter and Favors have all of the tools to compete on that level. The rest of the team is like something out of “Casablanca” and “rounding up the usual suspects. Millsap may be an exception becuase of his “brave heart” impression. The international flavor is gone and the team is very ordinary. To complete on that higher level, the Jazz need to continue making positive changes and building with young players which start with a young point guard of the type of Deron but without the headaches. Mathews turned out to be a steal and a gem which they lost. They need to keep digging. The team as now honed is just not on the level of that previous watershed of Williams and especially the three point shooting of Kirilenko, Mathews, Okur, and especially Williams.

  14. jbq2 says:

    Williams, Mathews, Kirilenko, Boozer, Okur are names from a well respected past. Favors and Kanter have all of the tools to compete on that level. The rest with the possible exception of Millsap are like something out of “Casablanca” when Claude Rains said to “round up the usual suspects”. They are just not very good and are highly “suspect” in their ability to produce over the long term. The international flavor is gone and the team has turned out to be very ordinary.

  15. eknuj says:

    so which teams wants it more?gonna watch this game…