Once considered long shots to even make the playoffs, the Phoenix Suns are entering the postseason as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
The Suns looked much more like a contender than the "overachiever" label they’ve carried throughout the season in a 100-86 win at Utah on Wednesday, locking up the third seed in the West while sending the Jazz tumbling to fifth. "It was a great way to finish the regular season – for a team that was picked by many to be on the outside looking into the playoffs or at the bottom of the playoff list," said Steve Nash, who had 11 assists in just three quarters. "To finish third in the West is rewarding. And most importantly we’re playing well and heading into the playoffs fairly good."
Amare Stoudemire finished with 20 points and seven rebounds. Channing Frye scored 10 of his 15 points in the second quarter for the Suns, who capped their surge through the West standings by ending Utah’s 10-game home winning streak and ripping away the Jazz’s hopes of opening the playoffs in Utah.
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Goran Dragic added 12 points and Jared Dudley scored 11 as the Suns’ reserves outscored Utah’s 50-13.
Utah shot just 39 percent and committed 19 turnovers.
"Hopefully we’ve learned something from tonight and now we move on," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.
Phoenix finished behind only the Lakers and Mavericks in the West. Phoenix will open the playoffs Sunday at home against Portland.
"No one really gave us a chance to be in the playoffs – period," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said.
The Jazz finished fifth in the West and will open the playoffs at Denver, which claimed the Northwest Division and No. 4 seed by holding the tiebreaker over Utah.
Deron Williams led Utah with 24 points and Mehmet Okur finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Carlos Boozer, Utah’s leading scorer and rebounder, was out with a strained muscle in his rib cage and the Jazz struggled inside without him, especially after Okur and Paul Millsap got in foul trouble.
The Jazz get a few days to recover before playing at Denver on Saturday night. "It looked like they were on a mission and came in here and outplayed us. Simple as that," Williams said. "We just need to put this one behind us. We had a chance to get the three seed but we let this one slip away and we don’t have home-court advantage, but there’s still a lot of basketball to play."
Phoenix capitalized inside as the Jazz missed Boozer, but it was the Suns’ outside shooting during a torrid second quarter that blew open the game. Nash gave the Suns a 24-23 lead with a 3-pointer late in the first and Phoenix never trailed again.
Phoenix flustered Utah throughout the second quarter and opened the period on a 15-3 run, forcing six turnovers in the period and outscoring Utah 29-17 for a 59-42 halftime lead. Frye scored 10 in the quarter, hitting two of Phoenix’s four 3-pointers, and Dragic added seven points.
"They’re the ones that got us separation. It wasn’t the first group. It was the second group," Gentry said. "They do a good job. They totally believe each other. That’s why we put them in and we leave them in for a long time sometimes."
Utah’s frustration started showing when Williams got tangled up with Leandro Barbosa while the two were headed up court and Williams ended up shoving Barbosa to get him away. Barbosa was called for the foul, but Williams was called for an offensive foul six seconds later and the Jazz continued to unravel as the calls went against them.
Utah shot 27 percent (6 for 22) in the second and stayed flat in the third, relying mostly on outside shots as Stoudemire and former Utah center Jarron Collins shut down the lane.
The meager runs the Jazz managed were always answered with something more from the Suns, who rested Nash for all of the fourth quarter.
Jason Richardson scored 12 for the Suns.
NOTES: Phoenix went 23-6 after the All-Star break. … Boozer missed just his fourth game of the season for Utah. … The Jazz honored late owner Larry H. Miller by retiring the No. 9 – his softball number – and renaming the court at EnergySolutions Arena during a halftime ceremony. … The Jazz were just 1-3 against Denver this season. … Stoudemire scored 12 in the first quarter.