Suns-Jazz Preview

Playing in front of the home crowd has been instrumental to the

success of both the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz.

The Suns managed to secure home-court advantage for a

first-round playoff series with an emphatic victory last time out.

The Jazz can do the same with a win in Wednesday’s regular-season

finale against visiting Phoenix, but they might have to play

without Carlos Boozer.

With a 123-101 victory over Denver on Tuesday, the Suns (53-28)

are assured of finishing no lower than fourth in the Western

Conference.

“It’s a reward for the collective energy we’ve put into it this

season,” Steve Nash said, “… We enjoy this and we want to keep

getting better and see how good we can be.”

Phoenix easily defeated a Nuggets team trying to wrap up the

Northwest Division title, jumping out to an 18-2 advantage just

minutes into the game and leading by as many as 28 points in the

second half before resting its starters the final period. Nash had

18 points and 10 assists and Amare Stoudemire finished with 26

points and eight rebounds for Phoenix, which has won 12 of 14.

Opening a first-round series at home seems to be crucial for the

Suns, as they’ve reeled off eight consecutive wins at US Airways

Center, and are 14-2 there since the All-Star break.

Although Phoenix has locked up a top-four finish, it can still

move up and clinch the No. 3 seed with a win over Utah. The Suns

won the last meeting between these teams 110-100 on March 19,

behind Stoudemire’s 44 points on 14 of 16 shooting.

Boozer had 23 points and 16 rebounds in that game, but he might

miss the regular-season finale after straining his right ribcage in

Tuesday’s 103-94 win at Golden State.

Boozer was taken to the locker room for X-rays at the start of

the second quarter and didn’t return. He declined to comment as he

slowly left the locker room, but gave a statement to the team.

“I’ve got a sharp pain in my right side under my ribcage,” he

said. “I will have an MRI (Wednesday) to see what it is. It

happened at the end of the first quarter. I didn’t get hit. It just

happened.”

With Boozer unable to play Tuesday, Paul Millsap stepped up and

finished with 10 points and a career-best 24 rebounds. Mehmet Okur

had a game-high 23 points for Utah, which improved to 11-4 since

March 15.

Like the Suns, the Jazz (53-28) can also get the third seed with

a win in the finale, which would give them the Northwest title.

Utah can also vault all the way to second place in the West with a

win over the Suns, coupled with a Dallas home loss to San

Antonio.

“We’re going to see who’s the tougher team,” Utah’s Ronnie

Price said. “The good thing is it’s in our building. We’ll see

who’s tougher. It would be a good momentum swing for us going into

the playoffs. This is going to be a big test for us.”

While a victory would seem to give the Jazz a great boost of

confidence heading into the playoffs, a loss to Phoenix would mean

the Nuggets would win the division and Utah would be regulated to

the fifth seed.

The Jazz don’t want to think about falling to fifth, because

home court is so important to their success.

They’ve won 10 straight in Salt Lake City, and are a league-best

20-2 at home since Jan. 6.

The Suns are fully aware of how difficult it is to win in Utah,

as they’ve lost four straight there and six of seven. In the lone

meeting in Salt Lake City this season, the Jazz won 124-115 on Jan.

25 behind Boozer’s 21 points and 20 rebounds.