23 April 2012
Tom Smart, Deseret News - See all 27 photos
Here it is. THE GAME. The chips are down and this one is for all the Tostitos. I sat down with Michael Schwartz of ESPN TrueHoop Network's ValleyoftheSuns to break down the biggest game EVER in the history of... Okay, maybe not ever, but for this group of guys it sure is.
Michael and the VotS crew will be running pre, half, and postgame live chats for the game for real-time analysis and reaction. I should be popping in for portions of that, so join us! We'll be taking questions and comments from the readers.
TheUtahJazzBlog: Michael, it's no secret that opposing scouts have pin-pointed and targeted an often porous pick-and-roll defense of the Utah Jazz. With Steve Nash feeding the second-best mySynergySports-ranked roll man in the NBA in Marcin Gortat are we expecting a steady diet of PnRs once again?
ValleyoftheSuns: This is the Phoenix Suns, what else would you expect? Like your old Jazz teams, that play is the bread and butter for the Suns with Nash running the show. It doesn't even matter that Utah struggles in that department, that's just what they run. The thing is this play has often stalled late in games when defenses really stiffen, so it will be interesting to see if the Suns can have success with the play down the stretch in what figures to be a close game.
TUJB: Many may find it surprising that the Jazz are ranked 11th in PnR defense this season on the roll man, but next-to-last at 29th on the ball handler, in this case Steve Nash. How is he holding up at this juncture of this truncated season, and do the Jazz have an answer for this future HOF'er?
VotS: When he's right, not many teams have an answer for Two Time. As always, he's been slowed by little bumps and bruises all season, most recently a hip malady that affects his movement once in a while. But he's been fine these past few games and with two full days off to recover I would be surprised if Nash isn't at his best. When that's the case, roll the tape of the final few minutes of these team's previous meeting to get your answer.
TUJB: Who are the players on Utah most suited to making you sweat in this most important, playoff-esque atmosphere and why?
VotS: Really all of the big guys, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in particular. With Channing Frye likely out or at least limited after suffering a shoulder injury on Saturday, the Suns will be thin up front and may even call on pencil thin Hakim Warrick for production at the backup four spot. The Suns did not possess the most lethal interior defense to begin with, so I definitely fear the possibility of Jefferson and Millsap having a field day inside.
TUJB: What players, doing what, are key to putting the Suns over the top after the pick-and-roll if Utah is able to stymie the steady flow?
VotS: Really, the Suns need a total team effort, especially if they're shorthanded. I hate to boil it down to something so simple, but the Suns must make shots, particularly Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown. When those guys get hot on the perimeter it can often open up the pick-and-roll game and make the Suns' offense elite. Then you saw how important the Suns' bench mob can be in that last matchup. With Bassy and Michael Redd leading the charge, the bench has really gelled in the last month. Especially with the starters shorthanded, the bench unit must step up once again.
TUJB: If you could have one player from the Jazz on the Suns who would it be and why?
VotS: Long term, it's got to be Favors, no questions asked. The Suns need a young future star and Favors could be exactly that. But for the rest of this season I'm rolling with Millsap. His bruising, physical style would fit in well at the four spot and the Millsap-Gortat rebounding tandem would make the Suns formidable on the glass for once.
VotS: Hey Clint, why are the Jazz so much better at home than on the road? Every year they seem to be two different teams depending on the venue.
TUJB: With only one season of the last five over .500 on the road that is a perplexing query. You might say it was experience except for that. With one of the notoriously best home courts in the NBA with a supportive, raucous crowd, the disparity between home and road may be striking to the players. Maybe they simply lack the mental fortitude, a trait older, successful teams acquire.
VotS: What's the biggest reason Utah is ahead of schedule this season competing for a playoff spot?
TUJB: They're really close, they have each others backs so they want to win for each other, make that extra pass, bring that help defense. Seasoned vet Earl Watson said this group of guys is closer than any locker room he's ever been in and Al Jefferson said recently that they'd "die for each other."
VotS: The Suns have already beaten the Jazz twice this season. What must the Jazz do differently tonight to prevent the series sweep?
TUJB: Obviously, minimize how the pick-n-roll happens, starting on the perimeter. If you let an opposing ball handler of Nash's quality dictate where the play goes you've already lost half the battle. And they have to put the effort in early, not wait til late like they did against the Orlando Magic the other night, when they buckled down and pulled away late. On the offensive end they need to continue to hit perimeter shots, of late led by Devin Harris who is shooting a career high from 3 this year. In the first two contests with Phoenix the Jazz hit 8 of 22.
Tom Smart, Deseret News
VotS: Who are the players on Phoenix most suited to making you sweat in this most important, playoff-esque atmosphere and why?
TUJB: Should the Jazz find themselves able to keep Nash and Gortat from dominating the paint, the player that seems to do the most damage keeping the defense honest was Channing Frye. If he's not in there I'd expect Michael Redd and Jared Dudley to attempt to open up the lanes and the Suns offense in the paint for the former pair to butter their bread. Phoenix hit on 44% of 50 3-point field goals in the first two meetings.
It also hasn't gone unnoticed that Alvin Gentry has found recent success rolling out a peaking-at-the-right-time Sebastian Telfair in the backcourt with Nash.
VotS: What players, doing what, are key to putting the Jazz over the top tonight?
TUJB: It starts with Al Jefferson directing the defense, a new trick this "old dog" added to his bag a few weeks ago. That communication is key to helping your perimeter defenders effectively counter a determined offense by pushing them away from where they're trying to be to set up a play. Failing to stave off the PnR with the starters Ty Corbin's found a lengthy, extremely successful spark lineup that includes Gordon Hayward at the 2, Paul Millsap at the 3, Derrick Favors at the 4, and Jefferson as a capable last line of defense when given the tenacious help the three in front of him have given.
And gotta knock back those treys.
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