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Tonight, the Suns play for all the marbles in Salt Lake City. By now, you know the stakes, you know the keys to the game, which were brilliantly explained by Mr. Laugan. And you get a recap of the ugliness in Denver and a WC update by Mr. Pollack.
There's no need for this writer to go over them again. What we need to delve into is the significance of this game. Yes this is a must win as far as the playoffs go. I get that. But I find my mind straying backwards, wondering how we are all in this position.
But First, Thoughts on a Manic Season:
The idea of a potential playoff appearance for the Phoenix Suns was a joke after a half season of games played. Impotent bench play combined with putrid offensive execution propelled the Suns to a 12-19 record. If the defense stepped up, the offense ran stagnant. If the boys hit a few shots, they gave up many more. The result from us Brightsiders was that of furious rancor directed at the FO for putting together such a putrid squad. The rosterbators did what rosterbators do, and many of us looked to the college ranks to pick out the inevitable next lottery pick.
But the Suns developed what was a 2-man show into a 10-man show in the second half. The chemistry formed, the light bulbs turned on, the messages translated from Sanskrit to English (who knows?) but things clicked, the results were evident.
This Suns team assembled to win next year and beyond had crossed the bridge from a "cash it in" year to a competitive year. The credit for the change in this team belongs to Alvin Gentry. Getting this cast to improve over a shortened season was fairly miraculous given the talent he had to work with. Scrap heap signings proved invaluable. Men of questionable skill and dedication performed at high levels that lifted the team to unlikely victories. Watching Shannon Brown and Michael Redd get hot and lift the team to W's was exciting and unexpected. The same goes for Sebastian Telfair's play. Perhaps the Suns assisted him in finding his niche as a pro ball player. Robin Lopez went from sure fire trade fodder and doghouse dweller to valuable contributor.
And for the most part, this fragile team stayed healthy and cohesive, recent events be damned.
Truly incredible when one considers the front office's assemblage of a cheap team. The results we often cringed at, the disbelief we endured. The Suns dragged us to bipolar ends in 150 something days, and 60 something games. Recent Suns squads have proven infuriating at times, but this year went from *^%#$ng train wreck to legitimacy in a matter of weeks. It was ugly, but it was true.
We rosterbated like fiends but the brass made no move come crunch time. Gentry's crew was turning the corner SOMEHOW, and spare parts morphed into vital parts. Why ruin a good thing?
Looking back is always dangerous. But things probably should be different. Down a game from a contender with the world on your shoulders-in a hostile environment, lacking full strength is exhilarating in a sense, and nerve racking just the same. Maybe it shouldn't be another way. Maybe that home loss to Cleveland...Ah screw it...It is and so it should be.
One final battle (well, 1 of potentially 2), for some uncommon warriors.
"We're going to play a different team than they were at the start of the year and they're going to play a different team that we were at the start of the year...I think it'll be a great basketball team. I really do because you'll get a great effort from the players on the floor."
Predictions: from our crack team of BSOTS writers:
East Bay Ray: Suns don't have enough with two starters likely missing, and Jazz win at home to clinch playoff spot. I hate to be a nattering nabob of negativism but after getting by decently without Hill, the loss of Frye was the final blow. Let's hope I'm wrong.
7Footer: I think this Suns team is ready to fight tonight with everything they've got in order to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, so are the Jazz...and most likely without Frye and possibly Hill, I just don't think they'll be able to get it done on the road in one of the toughest arenas to play in. I really hope I'm wrong.
Seth: I don't think Gortat will handle Al but if Hill plays and can slow Gordon without having to resort to the wet willy defense the Suns can win...but it's a toss up. Jazz haven't impressed me and they don't play defense so it comes down to Reds or Brown making threes
Eutychus: Suns win - Morris and Robin Lopez will set the tone for a physical game in which the Suns squeak out a win in a back and forth affair. I'll go with Shannon Brown and Gortat as the high scorers - Tat has failed hard in the last few weeks as far as bringing his 'A' game, but tonight he'll revert to the Marcin we saw in the first few months of the season, finishing around the rim better and taking shots with confidence.
Cantrell: Suns win in dramatic fashion. Last second J by Dudz to win. Show me the power of positive (or delusional) thinking.
Alex L.: Gentry goes back to Nash and the starters at 6 minutes left and a 7 point lead. The starters give up the lead to find the score tied with 3 minutes left, thanks to Devin Harris' scoring via drives to the basket. Gentry goes to Telfair, who does enough to shut down Harris and the Utah offense, while Shannon Brown hits a couple of baskets on Nash assists to give the Suns the lead for good.
Omaha Sun: I think it will come down to the bench mob. If the starters can hold their own against the Jazz's starters and not fall behind by too much early, I think Bassy and Co. should be able to take advantage of the likes of Jamaal Tinsley and their rookies. Somebody on the perimeter (Redd or Brown) will get hot and do enough to get the Suns the victory by 3-5 points.
..And Now a Prediction From a Loyal Jazz Fan From SLC Dunk
Tonight is for all the marbles. I never really played competitive marbles so I don't really get all the nuances of that expression. But hey, that's okay - because almost all of the players on the Jazz have never really played in a game that mattered at the NBA level before. Or if they did, they did it years ago. This is a very important game for everyone on the Jazz side. The team did not make the playoffs last year, and the Jazz franchise usually makes a habit of making the playoffs (even if it's just for one round). Financially it would be great. For our meager appeal for future free agents, it would look better than the Jazz being a tanking team like the Golden State Warriors. For our head coach, and former Phoenix Suns player, Tyrone Corbin - this would be amazing. To make the playoffs in his first full season as an NBA head coach. For our players it would mean that they came from being over-looked to being one of the Top 8 in the conference. It would be great for the fans, who had to deal with Jerry Sloan's resignation, Deron Williams' trade, the first losing season in years, and the NBA lockout all in the last 6 months. It would be great all around, and everyone is hoping that the Jazz do make the playoffs.
But having a unified force of positivity doesn't mean the Jazz will win tonight.
The Suns are injured (and so are the Jazz), but I like the Jazz' chances at home. That said, this is not going to be an easy game for either team. I envision a game of crisp passes, free flowing offense, and a number great plays by both sides all game long. What we're more likely going to see tonight is grind it out playoff basketball. Both teams are going to play a control game in the half court - and I don't think you'll see the Jazz (at the very least) try to do anything risky. For Utah they are going to try to bang inside all game long. They've tried to do that all season long, and for the most part, it's led the Jazz to some success in the regular season. Tonight you're not going to see the Jazz take 20 shots from three point range. Or at least, if you do see that, you're also going to see the Suns winning tonight. On defense, well, this is where things clearly are in favor of the Suns. Phoenix *is* a good defensive team. Utah is not. There will be fouls. And there will be free throws. You know the refs are getting ready for tonight. I think the Jazz leaders will be Al Jefferson (rebounds, shot attempts, sweat), Paul Millsap (points, fouls), and Devin Harris (assists, free throw attempts). The key to this game is going to be defense, particularly in trying to corral Steve Nash in some way. The Jazz took care of the Orlando Magic pick and roll last game, but Jameer Nelson isn't Steve Nash. And Orlando isn't Phoenix. The Jazz defense will be tested early and often. Ultimate prediction? It'll be a close game, with a lot of free throw attempts. And the Jazz win by 4.