Strong defensive play during a 13-game home winning streak has helped keep Utah in playoff position. That run won’t last much longer if the Jazz can’t put forth a better effort in transition.
The Jazz look to avenge a loss earlier this week to the high-scoring Phoenix Suns on Saturday night in a matchup of teams hoping to reach the playoffs.
Utah (44-27), seeking to keep pace with first-place Denver in the Northwest Division, will play five of its last 11 games at home. The Jazz will need to take advantage of off all of their remaining contests at Energy Solutions Arena as they try to climb up from seventh place in the Western Conference.
Utah is allowing just 90.8 points per game during its winning streak at home, allowing 100 points once during that span—a 113-109 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 11.
Once again, the Jazz will be thoroughly tested to keep up with a desperate Suns team. Phoenix (40-32), trying to make a late run to catch Dallas for the last playoff spot in the West, shot 54.9 percent in a 118-114 home win over Utah on Wednesday night for its season-high sixth straight win.
The Jazz tried to run with the up-tempo Suns but were outscored 31-14 on the fast break.
“They had too many contested layups when we weren’t getting back,” Utah guard Deron Williams said. “It’s partly my fault as a point guard. I have to get back. When I drive to the basket we have to have other guys rotating back.”
Phoenix is averaging a league-high 109.0 points and is the only team in the NBA that is making more than half of its shots, shooting 50.7 percent. The Suns have scored 142 points or more twice on the road this season, with neither of those games going into overtime.
They didn’t quite reach that mark Wednesday, but created plenty of problems inside for the Jazz.
“We gave up too many points in the paint,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “They scored 68 points in the paint, and I don’t know when any team has scored so many points in the paint against us.”
The Suns, though, had their winning streak end a day after beating the Jazz, looking tired in a 129-109 loss to Portland as they lost for the sixth time in their last seven road games.
After scoring 26 points against the Jazz, Suns swingman Grant Hill had just six versus the Trail Blazers. Shaquille O’Neal was one of the few Phoenix players that didn’t seem lethargic, scoring 20 points.
O’Neal has played a large role in the Suns’ last-ditch surge, but he’s averaging 12.0 points in three games against the Jazz this season. He finished with nine points and one rebound in Phoenix’s 109-97 loss at Utah on Nov. 17.
The Suns scored a combined 224 points in their other two meetings with Utah this season, but they’ll need a bounce-back game from Hill and a better performance from O’Neal to end the Jazz’s home dominance.
Hill scored at least 20 points in consecutive games before struggling against Portland. He’ll be matched up with Utah’s C.J. Miles, who has scored a combined 12 points in his last two games.