The Utah Jazz spent their latest game missing three of their most important players, and those absences showed in their third straight loss. The Phoenix Suns lost their future Hall of Famer a quarter into their latest game, but they kept right on rolling.
Coming off their most impressive victory of the season, the Suns will look for their fifth win in six games Monday in Utah, where the depleted Jazz are just happy to return from a rocky five-game road trip.
Phoenix won four of its first five behind a hot start from Amare Stoudemire, who averaged 25.8 points on 69.6 percent shooting, including a 49-point performance in a win over Indiana. After a loss to Chicago while Shaquille O’Neal sat out, the Suns (8-3) have won four of their last five with their rejuvenated center leading the way.
O’Neal is averaging 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds in that stretch, and he had 12 points in just 13 minutes on Sunday night against Detroit. Then, with 5:19 left in the first half, he was ejected for a flagrant foul two on Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey.
“I’ve never been the type of player to take anybody out, so I obviously went to the ball,” O’Neal said. “The little guy ran into a brick wall.”
Even without O’Neal, the Suns jumped out to a 15-point halftime lead on their way to a 104-86 victory over Detroit, which had ended the Lakers’ 7-0 start just two days earlier.
“It’s good to see our guys come out and jump on a very good basketball team,” Phoenix coach Terry Porter said.
O’Neal wasn’t the only Suns player missing from the win. Forward Matt Barnes was sitting out the second of a two-game suspension for his involvement in an altercation last week in a loss to Houston, while guard Leandro Barbosa missed his second game after returning to Brazil following the death of his mother.
All-Star point guard Steve Nash, who was given a one-game suspension for the fracas with the Rockets, returned Sunday and finished with 17 points and seven assists.
The Jazz (6-4) know better than most teams what it’s like to be shorthanded. Utah knew it would start the season without injured point guard Deron Williams, yet it jumped out to a 6-1 start and got Williams back from his left ankle sprain on Tuesday in a win at Philadelphia.
But after a loss to Washington, Williams said his ankle was still bothering him, so he sat out games against Charlotte and Cleveland. Williams hasn’t been the only key player missing, however. Andrei Kirilenko has missed the last two games with a sprained right index finger and center Mehmet Okur is in Turkey tending to a family situation.
Even with those three missing Saturday in Cleveland, the Jazz jumped out to a seven-point halftime lead. They folded in the second half, however, losing 105-93 to close their five-game Eastern road trip at 1-4.
“We can’t worry about this guy being hurt and that guy being hurt,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “I feel bad for them, but we still have to compete. You have to learn how to play in those tough games.”
Kirilenko is expected to play Monday as the Jazz return to EnergySolutions Arena, where they’re 4-0. It’s unclear if Williams will play and unlikely that Okur will return.
Utah won two of three against Phoenix last season, and has taken six of eight in the series overall.