Strikeout Over Jazz Would Cap Solid Month for Suns

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At this point, the Suns know who the Jazz are. Tonight marks the third time the two teams have met in the month of December. In the first two games, Phoenix has trailed 9-0, led by as many as 20, and needed an Eric Bledsoe buzzer-beater to come away with a three-point win.

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While the in-game flow has been wildly inconsistent, the result has remained the same. Phoenix won the first two meetings, and they have a chance for a November strikeout at home tonight.

A win would cap off a predictions-defying month for Phoenix. At 9-7, they’ve established themselves firmly in the playoff mix. They would be the eighth seed if the playoffs started today, though a switch of conferences would have them at the lofty No. 3 spot out East.

Phoenix's rise to relevance comes from leaning on an identity that enhances their talent level.

“The one thing going into the season, we wanted to play hard,” said Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. “I think we have a team that’s going to play hard every night.”

That characteristic has made Phoenix a threat to win nearly every game this season, 9-7 record notwithstanding. Four of their losses ended with one-possession margins of defeat, and all of them have come by an average of just 5.4 points. The wins have been more assertive, with the Suns averaging an 8.9-point margin of victory.

It’s tempting to think what November could have been had guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe not suffered a variety of injuries. Combined, the duo missed 10 games, not counting another game’s worth of separate halves due to in-game injuries to Dragic. Now healthy, the Suns have the benefit of having their two best scorers and playmakers on the floor available to alternate or play together.

The bench receives a boost as a result. Gerald Green will eventually, and perhaps tonight, slide into his role as the first perimeter threat off the bench, giving the Suns a reserve unit led by its third and fourth-best scorers in Green (14.6 ppg) and Markieff Morris (13.1 ppg).

The team’s overall offense has caught up with the defense, which ranked in the top 10 in nearly every significant category all month. Over the past seven quarters of basketball, Phoenix is averaging 30.1 points per period.

Against the2-15 Jazz at US Airways Center, that number could increase.

KEY MATCHUP

Trey Burke’s return from a broken finger provides an upgrade at point guard for the Jazz, but the rookie suffered all kinds of growing pains at the hands of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe last night.

The Suns’ point guards went out of their way to use their superior size, strength and experience, combining for 38 points on 14-of-23 shooting. Don’t expect them to lay off less than 24 hours later.

OPPONENT X-FACTOR

Will Enes Kanter start? The former No. 3 overall pick made his return from a right ankle sprain on Friday, but like Bledsoe, came off the bench so the team could gauge his level of recovery.

The 7-footer’s effectiveness was mixed: six points, four rebounds and five fouls in just 19 minutes of action.

Phoenix was still outrebounded 39-30, but an increased presence from Kanter could further tip that particular battle away from the Suns.

FINAL THOUGHT

Miles Plumlee’s rebounding has been a saving grace for the Suns this season, but back-to-back nights have not been friendly in that regard. The team’s leading glass-eater averages over three less rebounds per game on the second night of back-to-backs.

Phoenix will need its frontcourt fully engaged on the glass against Utah, which has amassed 35 offensive boards combined in the previous two meetings against the Suns.