Utah and Phoenix didn't appear so different heading into their first meeting a month and a half ago, but that winter solstice contest foreshadowed the Suns' dark days ahead.
There's no sign of improvement heading into Saturday night's home game against the Jazz, who will try to extend their season-best win streak with more stingy defense.
Prior to their Dec. 21 meeting, Utah was 11-14 and Phoenix 12-17. Including that 110-89 win and a victory three days before, the Jazz have gone 14-11 and put themselves in the playoff discussion. Dating to the Suns' game the day before, they're a league-worst 2-21, and every other NBA team has at least five wins in that time.
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Utah (24-25) concluded a six-game homestand with Friday's 84-81 win over Milwaukee, giving it a five-game streak entering a four-game road span straddling the All-Star break. The Jazz are in position to reach the .500 mark for the first time since being 10-10 entering play Dec. 11.
The streak has featured wins by an average of 11.6 points because the Jazz have limited opponents to 84.2 on 41.4 percent shooting and 27.3 from 3-point range. The returns of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors from extended injuries have had an impact, but coach Quin Snyder also credited wings Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood.
“The challenge, especially for Gordon and Rodney, is to not rest on the help side,” Snyder said. “If they're guarding the ball, you're engaged. But when you get on the help side, as much work they're doing in other aspects of the game, there's a tendency just to kind of relax. I think we've been doing a better job fighting that.”
The last two, however, haven't come easily with Utah scoring 84.5 points with shooting marks of 41.7 and 26.5, though Hood managed 23 points versus the Bucks. The guard has averaged 20.5 and shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range over the past eight games, but Snyder implied he'd like to see some stronger team numbers.
“I think we're an offensive juggernaut. We've scored over 80 in two straight games,” Snyder told the team's official website.
Hayward had 24 points in the December win over Phoenix and has averaged 23.3 while shooting 50.0 percent in four split meetings since the start of last season.
The Suns (14-37) are quickly dipping to the bottom of the Western Conference with only the Los Angeles Lakers between them and the cellar. After Thursday's 111-105 home loss to Houston, they've dropped at least six straight for the third time during their 23-game tailspin, including the first two of a seven-game homestand.
The six-point loss to the Rockets was their closest game since last winning Jan. 23 – a 98-95 home win over Atlanta – but Phoenix shot 38.6 percent and had 24 turnovers.
Alex Len had 12 points and 18 rebounds, and Archie Goodwin had a team-high 22 points, but the guard committed six turnovers. Any offensive promise he's shown in eight starts with Brandon Knight out has been compromised by his struggles taking care of the ball. The 21-year-old has averaged 16.4 points in those games but also 4.25 turnovers.
“It's small things I'm not doing like getting to the outlet fast enough,” Goodwin said. “I see the pass and sometimes I just throw it too hard or I don't drop it in the right spot. … I'll get better at it.”
He might have three more games to get it down with Knight possibly sidelined through the All-Star break due to a groin injury.