Thursday, January 13, 2005

A rare eclipse - Jazz block out the Suns

For the second time this week, a true NBA powerhouse rolled into the Delta Center.

For the second time this week, a true NBA powerhouse was beaten by the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz won the game, 115-108, behind a huge night from Mehmet Okur. Okur ended the night with 21 points and 17 rebounds, 10 of which were on the offensive end. There were many other contributors for the Jazz, as they flashed signs of what could be. Signs of what they hoped and thought they could be all along. They did not flash any signs of a team that entered the game in last place in their division, and had only won a third of their games on the season. To understand the brilliance of this victory, you need to look at the opponent.

Phoenix entered into the game with an astonishing 31-4 record. With only 4 losses the Suns had only half as many losses as the next closest team in the entire league (San Antonio with 8). The Suns were on pace to win 72 games in the season, which would match the Bulls for the most wins ever in an NBA season. The Suns, the night before had beaten Miami, the best team in the Eastern Conference, in a dominating fashion 122-107.

Phoenix departed Salt Lake City with loss number 5 and while showing amazing offensive ability, also showed a few areas of fragility. Lack of Depth - An injury to a key player (Nash, Stoudemire, or Marion) and this team would become very beatable. Who does the dirty work? The absence of any real ability to do the thankless tasks of rebounding and defense was evident.

The outside observer trying to explain what happened, would write this one off saying the Suns overlooked the Jazz, were tired from the night before, and probably victims of an officiating crew that favored the home town club. To be honest, the first two items are true. The Suns who rightfully have a healthy swagger going, probably overlooked the Jazz. Its also likely they were tired from the night before. However, some of the fatigue issues have more to do with team setup and coaching philosophy, than the fact they simply played the night before. Even though the Suns are young and energetic, the fatigue issue won't go away because Phoenix has no depth and a coach with a philosophy of "keeping 7 or 8 guys happy" with playing time. The result: Only two Sun reserves played more than 10 minutes, and none played more than 19, leaving the Suns with a grand total of 6 points and 3 rebounds contributed by the bench. The third explanation, about the Suns getting unfair treatment by the officials who may have been inclined to favor the home team, is simply untrue. The Jazz were whistled for 26 fouls, the Suns only 16. The Jazz shot 16 free throws the entire night, the Suns shot 36 and that factor alone kept the Suns close.

A few things and numbers, that I find interesting....

  • Suns forward Shawn Marion said, "We came out of the gates on fire tonight and I think we just relaxed a little bit. And as soon as we relaxed, they became the aggressors and they started getting the calls." Can someone send Marion the stat sheet showing that the Suns attempted more than twice the number of free throws as the Jazz? Can someone remind Shawn that he took 6 free throws, which is twice his season average (3.2 per game)?
  • The Suns totaled 14 assists for the game. Not bad. However, take away Steve Nash's 11 assists and you see only three other Suns contributed one assist each.
  • The Suns shot 27 three pointers, only making 9. That sounds like an awful lot of three point attempts, but the Suns average 24 per game on the season. It also sounds like they weren't too successful with all those shots by only making 33%. However, consider those 9 made three pointers totaled 27 points, meaning the Suns would have needed to make 14, or 52%, of 27 two point shots to equal the total points scored. Bombs Away!
  • This was the first game the Suns had lost to a team with a losing record this season.
  • A bunch of young guys were on the court last night. The oldest starter on either team was Steve Nash at 30. The 10 guys starting for the two teams averaged 25.2 years of age.
  • The Suns up-tempo, offensive style is fun to watch. They average 110 points a game, which is nearly 8 more points than the next closest team (Dallas - 102).

Did you Know? The Suns hold the NBA record for most points scored in the first half of a game, with 107. Record was set in 1990 against Denver.

The Jazz head to Sacramento tonight and then return for a game against the second best team in the Eastern Conference, Cleveland on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if they can keep building on this new found ability to play an entire game. They should receive a boost if Andrei Kirilenko returns to the lineup this weekend as predicted.

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