Hornacek's Return Highlights Suns vs. Jazz

Barry Gossage/NBAE

If Suns fans felt nostalgic happiness over the hiring of Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, they can understand why Jazz fans will cheer his return to Energy Solutions Arena tonight.

The former NBA guard spent nearly the same amount of time in Utah (six and a half seasons) as he did in Phoenix (six). While his only All-Star season came with his first team, it was with his last that he made back-to-back trips with the NBA Finals.

Finally, Utahns have the same appreciation Phoenicians do for Hornacek’s combination of skill and grit as a player, traits which many figured he’d continue to exhibit as a head coach.

And in true Hornacek fashion, he’s putting the least outward emotion in his return to where his playing career ended.

“It’s going to be a tough game for us I think,” he said. “They’re always pretty good at home. You look at their record, they’ve been in games, they’ve had a tough schedule. They have young guys. They’ve had three days to prepare.”

Such a statement won’t keep the Jazz faithful from cheering his return, and not just for the sake of the return itself. Utah fans need something to cheer for these days. Their team is 2-14, the worst record in the NBA. The growing pains of their encouragingly talented and youthful core have been harsher than expected.

There are bright spots. Gordon Hayward is one of five players in the league to average at least 16 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. Derrick Favors is essentially a double-double man with defense thrown into the mix (13 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.4 bpg).

The overall results, however, are another story. They are the second-worst shooting team. They have the second-worst turnover rate in the league, and score the second-least amount of points per game.

Charlotte is the team behind all those second-to-last rankings, but the 7-9 Bobcats make up for it with defense. The Jazz, who rank in the bottom three in overall defensive rating, do not.

KEY MATCHUP

Hayward is one of the more versatile go-to threats in the league, making containing him no easy task. P.J. Tucker, however, would appear well-equipped for the task. He is quick enough to stay in front of Hayward, strong enough to hold position when he drives to the basket.

The Utah swingman is in the midst of a shooting slump, hitting just 28.4 percent of his shots over the last five games. Yet even with his shot in a rut, he filled the stat sheet for 15 points, 12 assists and six rebounds in a narrow win over the Bulls on Monday.

Phoenix will need to limit his damage better than they did in their first meeting this year, when he came just shy of a trouble-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists).

OPPONENT X-FACTOR

Utah hasn’t played since their home win at Chicago. The longer-than-usual rest was compounded by a food-heavy holiday. Meanwhile Phoenix entered Thanksgiving on the heels of a Wednesday night game knowing they only had a day between games.

Will rust show for the hosting Jazz? Or will the rest and ease of the holidays prove a boon against the Suns, who are playing their seventh game in 11 days?

FINAL THOUGHT

Eric Bledsoe reportedly looked much better in today's shootaround and is likely to play tonight, though he could come off the bench. Jazz fans may not like that, as it was he who punctuated his arrival to Phoenix with a game-winning three-pointer over Utah in the second game of the season.

The Jazz, meanwhile, has regained the starting point guard they’d planned for all along in rookie Trey Burke. The No. 9 overall pick had his best game of the season against Chicago, putting up 14 points, six rebounds and four assists. He is shooting just 33 percent from the field through the first four games of his career.