Suns’ next challenge: Putting clamps on Utah’s Hayward


SALT LAKE CITY — Stopping Utah forward Gordon Hayward represents the latest challenge for a beleaguered Phoenix Suns defense.

Phoenix (6-14) hit a low point during a 138-109 loss to Golden State on Saturday. The Warriors shot 66.7 percent from 3-point range (14 of 21) over four quarters.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson led the way in torching the Suns from the perimeter, teaming up to score 57 points while making 11 of 14 from distance.

Phoenix's offense wasn't able to keep up with the explosion that it couldn't contain on defense.

“Offensively, we were stagnant,” guard Devin Booker said. “We weren't moving the ball well, and that's what happens when you play good teams. They played good team defense.”

Now comes another challenge against the Jazz (13-9), who are coming off a 107-102 victory over the Lakers on Monday. Hayward scored 23 vs. the Lakers and is averaging 31.7 points over his last three home games, shooting 52 percent from the field.

The game can be seen on FOX Sports Arizona and FOX Sports GO, starting at 6:30 p.m.

The Suns will need more from both sides of the ball in Salt Lake City. They have allowed 121.7 points per game over their last three games. Phoenix will also need big games from Booker and Eric Bledsoe against a Jazz backcourt that has played without injured George Hill over the last three games. Bledsoe is averaging 19.3 points for the Suns, while Booker is scoring 19.2 points per contest.

Utah swept Phoenix a season ago, winning all four games between the two teams for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder points to an expansion of Hayward's postgame as a reason behind him taking another step forward as a scorer.

“He added a comfort level in the post that, I think, is still going to improve,” Snyder said. “He's shooting off screens, so he's able to score multiple ways when someone takes something away.”

Hayward's ability to attack a defense in so many different ways has transformed Utah into a better offensive team this season. The Jazz have occasional stretches where they are paralyzed by long-term scoring droughts. Still, it is no longer a defining characteristic that it had been at times over the past few seasons.

“He makes everything click,” guard Rodney Hood said. “His aggressiveness in going to the basket, knocking down shots, passing the ball. He does a lot for our team. We feed off that.”