Suns’ playoff hopes depend on win over Jazz
The Phoenix Suns now find themselves in a must-not-lose-to-the-Utah-Jazz situation.
Referring to the Tuesday night showdown in Salt Lake City as a must-win event would be preferable, and a more efficient use of vocabulary, but we’re adopting the lead of Suns coach Alvin Gentry.
OK, so even though Gentry finally can admit that “must-win” fits the description of Game 65, he’s not prepared to alter his team’s approach.
“We’re going to do what we do,” Gentry said after Saturday’s home loss to the Denver Nuggets. “We’re going to play the way we play. We got to where we are because we have a system.”
Where they are is ninth place in the Western Conference, requiring a win Tuesday over eighth-place Utah and — unless the Jazz lose their season finale to the Portland Trail Blazers — a triumph over the first-place San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night at U.S. Airways Center if they intend to prolong their season.
There are no qualifiers regarding Tuesday’s game: Lose, and the season ends on Wednesday.
By “doing what we do,” Gentry was referring to maintaining a rotation integrity that led to the Suns’ late-season charge into the playoff hunt. Steve Nash, for example, probably won’t be working more than 40 minutes in Utah.
But the system might require tweaking that has little to do with the gravity of Tuesday’s game. That possibility arose when Channing Frye was injured in the first half against Denver. During a skirmish under the Suns’ hoop, Frye was stripped by Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari on an attempted point-blank shot that ended in subluxation of the shoulder (right) that Frye dislocated last season.
If he can’t play, Hakim Warrick is a decent bet to join rookie Markieff Morris for minutes at power forward.
The continuity that has enabled Phoenix to thrive since the All-Star break might receive an additional challenge if Grant Hill and his balky knee are able to suit up. To be sure, having a veteran with one-on-one defensive chops seems more than worth inserting back into the mix.
With Shannon Brown providing a lift for the Suns’ offense in Hill’s absence, Hill would join Michael Redd and Sebastian Telfair in leading the second unit.
Bench production of both teams has been lopsided in two previous games between the Suns and Jazz. Phoenix, which owns a 2-0 mark against Utah to secure a potential tiebreaker, scored a 46-20 bench-points victory in their last meeting with the Jazz — a 107-105 victory on April 4 in Utah that was decided on a broken-play runner by Nash.
Frye provided 13 points — on 5-of-13 shooting — and four rebounds against Jazz four man Paul Millsap, who had 25 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.
But Frye hasn’t exactly been a slouch against Utah this season. In a 120-111 home triumph on March 14, Frye made 10 of 18 shots, finishing with 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat teamed up with Frye to combine for 72 points. Hill added 12 points and seven rebounds in his only appearance vs. the Jazz this season.
It should be noted the Utah bench clobbered the Phoenix subs to the tune of 55-24 in March.
It’s a bit odd that the reserves for each team were able to rise on the road. Yet it’s still difficult to imagine the Suns’ second unit waltzing into Salt Lake City and slapping down a Jazz bench loaded with improving young talent.
In Saturday’s overtime win over the Orlando Magic, Utah received major contributions from post prospects Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Favors, who made 8 of 11 shots from the field, provided 16 points and 11 rebounds. His effectiveness prompted coach Tyrone Corbin to slide Millsap to small forward down the stretch in a power-oriented baseline that included center Al Jefferson.
Demonstrating mastery of the up-and-under post move, the rookie Kanter scored nine points in only 12 minutes.
Utah’s second unit is directed by veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley, who handed out nine dimes against Orlando and has taken over a back-up role that belonged to Earl Watson. Watson started in place of the injured Devin Harris when Phoenix won in Utah on April 4.
Telfair played almost 16 minutes on that night, going head to head with Tinsley and finishing at plus-13 on the plus-minus meter. His ability to get into the lane against Tinsley could be a key for a Phoenix team that — based on health issues — might need adjustments to do enough of what they do to win.