Jazz 99, Suns 90
PHOENIX (AP)—The Utah Jazz won a game for coach Jerry Sloan, his ailing wife, Bobbye, and for their playoff hopes.
Gordan Giricek scored a career-high 33 points, the most by a Utah player this season, helping the Jazz continue their drive for a postseason berth with a 99-90 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
Sloan left Phoenix shortly before the game to return home and be with his wife, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“We’re very concerned with his wife,” Raja Bell said. “We understand he has to handle his family first. We’re going to try and win for him. Our prayers are with him.”
All-Star forward Andrei Kirilenko had similar feelings.
“We understand his situation,” he said. “We’re sorry for Bobbye. He needs to be there (with her).”
The win kept the Jazz one-half game behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Utah is trying to reach the postseason for the 21st consecutive year. The Jazz and Nuggets play Sunday at Denver.
The loss was the 18th in the last 23 games for the Suns, the last-place team in the West.
For the 12th time in 13 games, Amare Stoudemire led the Suns in scoring with more than 20 points. He had 26, including 15 in the fourth quarter, with a season-high 15 rebounds.
Giricek, averaging only 10.6 points, nearly equaled that total with 10 in the first quarter. He had four in the second period, 11 in the third quarter and eight in the fourth. His previous career high was 31 with Orlando, and the Jazz’s top scoring performance was 32 by Matt Harpring.
Giricek said his stirring performance was “already forgotten.”
“I can’t think about it anymore,” he added.
Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni lamented the Suns’ poor defensive play.
“Four points down with three minutes to go and we didn’t stop anybody,” he said. “We just kind of danced around and didn’t get into them. We have trouble guarding the ball.
“Giricek killed us. We just have to get better collectively defensively.”
The Suns began the game experimenting with a big lineup, moving the 6-foot-7 Johnson from shooting guard to point guard, switching the 6-7 Marion from small forward to shooting guard, and putting 6-11 Zarko Cabarkapa into Marion’s spot. But it didn’t last long, as both Stoudemire and Cabarkapa incurred two personal fouls in less than six minutes and went to the bench.
Giricek, making his second straight start since being acquired from Orlando on Feb. 19, ignited the Jazz’ offense. Easily knifing through the Suns’ loose zone defense, he scored 14 points in the first half, helping Utah take a 49-39 lead. Bell scored seven points in the final 2:31 of the half to preserve the lead.
The Jazz never trailed after a 7-0 run in the first quarter gave them a 16-9 lead.
Johnson was the Suns’ most effective player in the opening half with 10points, while Stoudemire had nine points and eight rebounds.
Tom Gugliotta, playing against his former team for the first time since being traded to Utah on Feb. 19, scored five points and grabbed six rebounds in 19 minutes. … The Suns are playing back-to-back home games for the second time this season; they face the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night. They will do the same thing next weekend, meeting Minnesota on Friday and Milwaukee on Saturday. … Friday’s game began a five-game, nine-day road trip for the Jazz; they also will travel to Denver, Toronto, Cleveland and Atlanta. … This was the first time since the Jan. 5 trade that sent Stephon Marbury to the Knicksin which point guard Leandro Barbosa did not start for the Suns.