As it is with every remaining game on the Phoenix Suns' schedule, this one tonight against the Utah Jazz has huge playoff implications. The Suns are only 1/2 game out of Utah's 9th place and 1.5 games out of Houston's 8th, the latter being the minimum requirement to keep playing games into May 2012.
While tonight's game does not vault the Suns all the way into the playoff picture, a win would award the Suns sole possession of 9th place over Utah. At least that's better than 10th!
A win tonight will be quite difficult, though, so don't be surprised if the Suns come up short.
However, Utah has lost 3 of their last 4 and most of their rotation is young, not used to the playoff pressure, while the Suns' lineup is full of veteran's accustomed to qualifying and going deep into the playoffs. Just two seasons ago, many of these same Suns finished on a 28-7 tear and blazed through two playoff rounds before bowing out to the LA Kobes.
And this season the Suns are on a roll again. They have gone 15-7 in their last 22 games, many of those against quality opposition. Everyone looks more comfortable in their roles and, hence, are providing more predictable (winning) results. Newcomers Michael Redd, Shannon Brown and even Sebastian Telfair are providing more now than earlier in the season.
But the road is getting sloppier by the day. Gone are the creampuff games. Gone are the long home stretches.
7 of the Suns' last 13 games are on the road, with toughies in that 13 including 2 against Utah, 2 against Denver, 2 against San Antonio, plus the Lakers, Wolves, Grizz, Dragons, Clips and Thunder. The only "easy" game in their last 13 is against the tanking Blazers. A gauntlet, for sure. The Suns HAVE to win more than half of these games and hope someone falls on their face in turn.
The Suns won their only prior matchup with the Jazz this season, 120-111 in Phoenix on March 14. Since then, Utah beaten fellow playoff contestants Wolves, Lakers, Thunder and Nuggets coupled with relevant losses to the Clippers and Kings. Utah's upcoming sked gets tough (two Spurs games, two Suns games, plus Rockets, Grizz and Mavs among their final 12), so they need this win tonight almost as bad as the Suns. The young Jazz have a high-scoring offense and high-scoring defense. The key to beating them is scoring the ball, which the Suns do well.
The next biggest obstacle to the Suns' playoff hopes are the Houston Dragons. They play at the LA Lakers on Friday as part of 7 of their final 12 games on the road. Toughies include @Lakers, Jazz, Suns, 2 against the Nuggs, @Dallas and @Miami. The Suns basically need Houston to lose two more of those toughies than the Suns.
Denver is also a team the Suns could catch. 7 of their last 13 are on the road. Toughies among their final 13 include 2 against the Suns, 2 against the Dragons, 2 against the Wolves, plus Lakers, Clips, Magic and OKC.
This is doable, folks!