The Suns look to shake off a two game mini slump and get into rhythm against the Jazz on the second game of a back-to-back. Phoenix has been discordant while giving up leads in the fourth quarters of their last two games resulting in broken record losses.

**Edit** - Goran Dragic will miss tonight's game after sustaining an injury to his ankle last night against the Timberwolves.

When: Wednesday February 26, 2014, 7:00 PM local time (9:00 EST)

Where: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah

Watch/Listen: TV: FSNAZ Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

The 2-15 Jazz stunned the 9-7 Suns at US Airways Center on November 30th on the back end of a home-home series. Phoenix's defense was lethargic as Utah managed to shoot .513 from the field and .500 from three point range (9-18). The Jazz were also 25-29 from the free throw line in one of their better offensive showings of the season. Phoenix surrendered 34 points in the fourth quarter as they let Utah pull ahead 95-91 with 5:39 to go and never got any any closer in a 112-104 loss.

Trey Burke scored 20 points for Utah in just his fifth game as a pro. Dragic countered with 24 points and nine assists in the loss. Eric Bledsoe missed the game with a shin injury. The Suns had beaten the Jazz 112-101 in Salt Lake City the previous night.

Phoenix leads the season series 2-1. Bledsoe hit a game winning three from the top of the key over Gordon Hayward to propel the Suns to an 87-84 victory in the second game of the season.

Team Bios:

Utah Jazz: 20-36

Points per game: 94.9 (27) Points allowed: 100.7 (14)

ORtg: 103.3 (22) DRtg: 109.7 (30)

Full team statistics.

Utah needs to re-scheme their offense this summer. Hopefully they'll have spare time while they're overhauling their defense... While the Jazz come into tonight's contest as one of the lowest scoring team's in the league, they are even worse on the defensive side of the ball. Their simple formula for failure involves allowing opponents to shoot a high percentage while not forcing them into committing turnovers. The Jazz are 29th in opponent's turnovers this season.

Despite some of these harrowing numbers the Jazz have actually outplayed their record to an extent. After a 1-14 start (without Trey Burke for the first 12 games) the Jazz are 19-22 since. Take away the bad start and they've almost played .500 ball for half of a season. Part of what skews the data is that 16 of their sound beatings losses have come by 15 points or more.

Derrick Favors (hip) returned to the lineup Monday and helped the Jazz snap a three game losing streak with a 110-98 victory against the Boston Celtics. While Favors and Enes Kanter can be a load inside, Hayward and Burke have struggled to keep this team out of the cellar... largely due to their shared offensive impotence. This is Utah's getaway game before a six game, nine day eastern road trip.

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Phoenix Suns: 33-23

Points per game: 105.0 (5) Points allowed: 101.7 (21)

ORtg: 108.9 (8) DRtg: 105.6 (14)

Full team statistics.

Sunday night the Suns took a 10 point lead into the fourth quarter against Houston. They gave up 32 points to the Rockets and lost the game.

Last night the Suns took a six point lead into the fourth quarter against Minnesota. They gave up 35 points to the Timberwolves and lost the game.

The Suns were the Suns in some ways (28 fast break points), but not in others (only 15 three pointers attempted and only three made). Phoenix appeared to be in good shape when Ish Smith finished a three point play with 7:56 remaining to give them an eight point lead, but Minnesota blew their doors off with a 24-6 run that two timeouts from coach Jeff Hornacek couldn't stymie. After the game Hornacek appeared as perplexed by the second straight collapse as the rest of us.

Markieff Morris has scored 20+ points in three straight games for the second time in his career. He did it earlier this season when he was named Western Conference Player of the Week. He has scored in double figures in 18 of his last 19 games.

What To Watch For:

Pick up the pace - The Jazz are 27th in the league in pace. That's just above the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies, teams the Suns are a combined 0-4 against this season. Though Phoenix has won two of three against Utah, one of those came on a last second shot.

Finish early - The Jazz have been prone to blowout losses this season. The Suns need to come out with a vengeance, seeking redemption for squandering leads in the previous two games. If the game is close early I expect it be close late. Stifling defense would be a key here, something the Suns have not been playing consistently. The 112 point the Suns surrendered to Utah earlier in the season (tied for Utah's third highest output) will not be acceptable.

Dragon fire - Goran Dragic needs to be Goran Dragic. I realize I'm being fastidious here, and somewhat discounting his career high in scoring Sunday, but in his last three games not including the one against Houston he is averaging just 13.7 points and 4.7 assists. Not very Dragon-like. Hopefully he will be engaged after never really getting into the flow of the game against Houston... and hopefully the training staff have enough rubber bands and superglue to keep his ankle from being an issue.

The Final Word(s):

This game is more about the Suns than the Jazz. Phoenix is the superior team and if they come out and play to their potential they will win. Mere days after I suggested that the Suns should be looking ahead instead of checking the rearview mirror they are almost the team in the rearview mirror. They are now eighth in the Western Conference just a game in the loss column ahead of a Memphis team that owns the tiebreaker against them.

Can't afford to lose this very winnable game.

The Phoenix Suns have been a pleasant surprise this season, going 33-23 so far and sitting in a playoff position if the season ended today. But the season doesn't end today, and these last 26 games will have to break a troubling trend to end on a positive note.

Two fourth quarter collapses collapses for the Phoenix Suns in the last two games. One from an 11-point lead, the other from an 8-point lead.

In each case, the Suns shot just 31% while allowing 60% shooting to the other team. One line: 32-19 Rockets. The other line: 35-20 Timberwolves.

"Giving up 35 points tonight in the fourth quarter, 34 (Sunday) night in the fourth quarter," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "You are not going to win games."

Unfortunately, there is a trending decline in the 4th quarter for the Suns, who are just 14-12 since January 1:

  • On the season, the Suns shoot 45.7% for a full game, good for 8th in the league
  • On the season, the Suns shoot 44.8% in the 4th quarter, good for 14th in the league. This is a bit lower than their full-game percentages, but still in the better half of the league.
  • Since February 1, prior to these last two collapses, the Suns were shooting just 37.8% in the 4th quarter, ranking 27th in the league in shooting % in the 4th
  • In these last two collapses, the Suns shot just 31% and 30% in the 4th.

The Suns fourth-quarter scoring is declining as well:

  • In January, the Suns led the league in 4th quarter scoring at 27.9 points per 4th quarter
  • In February, prior to the last two collapses, the Suns are just 18th, with 23.9 points per 4th quarter
  • In these last two collapses, the Suns scored just 20 and 19 points in the 4th

The same pattern is unfolding on the defensive end as well:

  • For the season, the Suns have allowed the 11th lowest opponent shooting % for the game, at 44.8%
  • Also for the season, the Suns have allowed the league's second highest opponent FG% in the 4th, at 46.6%
  • In January, that percentage rose to a league worst 48.8% allowed in the 4th
  • In February, prior to the last two collapses, the Suns are even worse at 49.6% allowed in the 4th
  • In these last two collapses, the Suns allowed 61% shooting

You'd think with that decline, the Suns are getting blown out in the 4th. But such is not the case. The Suns are keeping things close, despite the shooting discrepancy, by limiting opponent shot attempts in the final quarter.

  • Since January, the Suns are allowing the 4th-fewest 4th quarter shots, at only 18.5 per 4th quarter
  • In February, the Suns have that down to just 17.1 attempts, fewest allowed in the entire league

But last night, the Wolves were able to pinch off 21 shots (making 13 of them) and convert 8 of 11 free throws. In the Sunday game, the Rockets only took 15 shots but made 9 of them and also made 12 of 14 free throws.

The Suns are particularly deft at committing shooting fouls in the fourth quarter of games in lieu of allowing open shots. The thinking being, apparently, that there's a better chance the opponent will miss 1 of 2 freebies from 15 feet than a layup from less than 2 feet away.

Generally, this is marginally effective enough to make the 4th a wash on most nights.

Overall scoring differentials

  • For the season, the Suns are only a net -0.1 in 4th quarter scoring, basically a wash
  • In October/November, the Suns were a net -1.8 in 4th quarter scoring, with a 10-9 record
  • In December, the Suns were a net +0.8 in 4th quarter scoring, with a 10-3 record
  • In January, the Suns were a net +3.1 in 4th quarter scoring, with a 9-7 record
  • In February, the Suns are a net -5.2 in 4th quarter scoring, with a 5-5 record

How are the Suns getting worse in the 4th?

For one thing, it's the lack to go-to scoring options when the game gets tight. The Suns only big threat in the 4th quarter is Goran Dragic, but teams can scheme to get the ball out of his hands and/or force him into tough shots. Still, Dragic scores just over 5 points per game in the 4th, or 25% of his full-game scoring. Perfect balance.

For another, it's a rookie coach. Several times in recent games, the Suns out-of-timeout play call has been scuttled by the other team's defense, forcing the Suns into a tough shot. Without a go-to scorer you can just hand the ball and say 'score', coach is forced to call intricate multi-action plays to get an open shot that's usually a spot-up jumper.

But having a go-to scorer does not guarantee a win either. Simply look at the New York Knicks, with one of the league's best go-to scorers in Carmelo Anthony. Their team is abysmal at closing out games.

Those excuses have been true all season (Hornacek) or at least in the last 2 months (missing Bledsoe), and the Suns were just fine through January.

But February is a different story and these last two games against quality Western Conference competition has been telling.

All is not lost. Even after these last two losses, the Suns are 29-7 when leading after three quarters, while going just 4-14 when trailing. The Suns are generally winning the games they are supposed to win.

But when the road gets tougher, the Suns need to get tougher.

It will help to get Eric Bledsoe back. But a closer look at the 4th quarter stats by individual player shows that only Gerald Green (37% overall, 32% on threes) and Eric Bledsoe (36.8% overall, 30% on threes) are appreciably worse overall shooters in the 4th than the rest of the game. Everyone else in the rotation stays steady in FG% and scoring.

The Suns tend to shoot a lot of threes in the 4th period (6.9 per game), but still make 36.2% of them. The Morris brothers, while overall productive in the 4th (almost 8 points, 4 rebounds between them), don't shoot three-pointers as well in the 4th (34%). Only P.J. Tucker (52%), Dragic (51%), Leandro Barbosa (44%) and Channing Frye (43%) shoot better in the 4th when the game is on the line.

What next?

The going gets tougher.

It's not likely that the Suns will continue to get worse and worse in the 4th, but there is certainly precedent here that the Suns are going through a rough patch.

The key, of course, is to get a big lead before the 4th starts. These lost leads of 10-points and 8-points are an anomaly. Overall, the Suns are 29-7 when leading going into the 4th quarter.

But as defenses tighten in the final weeks of the season and the Suns find themselves on the road more often than not (9 of last 14 on the road), the tough has to get going. The Suns have to find a way to control the opponents' scoring in order to close out tough games against good teams.

PHOENIX — Sitting through the Suns’ press conference after a game against the Timberwolves on Tuesday felt mighty familiar. Not for coach Jeff Hornacek, whose eyes looked tired for the...

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To fill the roster spots just vacated by bought-out Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih, the New York Knicks signed a couple of recently available former Phoenix Suns.

After a couple of ten-day stints with the San Antonio Spurs ended ignominiously after Friday's loss to the Phoenix Suns, former Suns guard Shannon Brown has another chance at NBA basketball with the New York Knicks.

Per ESPN's Chris Broussard, the struggling Knicks signed both Brown and another former Suns Earl Clark to ten-day contracts yesterday in what a Suns fan might think is an attempt to collect as many available former Suns as possible. The Knicks already employ former Suns PF Amare Stoudemire, though at this point in his career they probably wish they didn't.

Other recent Suns have already been gobbled up by the Los Angeles Lakers, Wesley Johnson and Kendall Marshall, who already employed former Suns PG Steve Nash and coach Mike D'Antoni. Nash and coach D are getting closer and closer to the same distinction as Amare in NY.

That's seven former Suns on two big-market teams with a combined record of 40-74.

Too bad neither team has a roster spot for point guard Sebastian Telfair, who is eminently available as well. With gun charges upcoming for incumbent - and almost-Sun - Raymond Felton, the Knicks might just need a pure point guard more than anything.

For a big man, there are plenty of options. They could look to Hamed Haddadi for rebounding, or Luke Zeller - the best shooter in the world outside of games - for outside shooting to stretch a defense.

It appears the NBA careers of former Suns Josh Childress (who the Suns are still paying $7 million per year), Hakim Warrick, Ronnie Price and Michael Redd are on life support at best.

But who knows, this is the time of 10-day contracts. Keep your eyes peeled for more former Suns to get back on a basketball court near you.

So much podcast goodness just one click away... We talk a lot about this guy in the picture above for some reason. Is that Bones "Hakim" Warrick?

In this weeks podcast the boys discuss the Great Granger Gossip as Danny Granger is rumored to be on the Phoenix Suns radar, but also on the radar of about every contender that could use a wing scorer of his caliber.

Could the Suns use Granger?

Sure, he adds shooting and scoring to the bench, but he has also played less minutes in the last two seasons combined than the relic that is Nazr Mohammed. For you casual NBA fans Mohammed hung the first peach basket up for Dr. Naismith. True story. Oh, and do you know what Granger's nicknames are? He has a few and we talk about them.

We also dive into the final 25 games of the season, gave live updates to the Minnesota Timberwolves game, talked Star Wars, Netflix slogans, Breaking Bad, and answered YOUR Facebook questions.

Listen Here: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 52

Give us your thoughts below!

P.S.

If you have questions for Kris, Jim, and the other guests on the podcast make sure to like on Facebook and submit your questions every Tuesday when we ask. Always appreciate the questions, feedback, and condescending constructive criticism!

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