With only less than a dozen games left in the season, the Utah Jazz (35-36) look to bump off the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth spot in the Western Conference when they host the worst team in the West, the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night. The Jazz have lost nine of their last 12 games but got back on track against Philadelphia on Monday night. Tonight against the Suns will be the best opportunity for the Jazz to get back into playoff position, considering the Lakers have been on a downward trend themselves, losing their last three games, including one to the Suns.
The Jazz are coming off a much-needed (and well-deserved) victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, 107-91, which saw four of their five starters score in double figures. With that victory and a Lakers loss, the Jazz are within reaching distance of the Hollywood All-Stars for the playoff spot.
“We can definitely do it,” said Utah fan-favorite Gordon Hayward after their victory. “We’ve beaten some of the best teams in the league. I know we can do it. It’s just a matter of us going out there, playing as a team, helping each other defensively and making a lot of plays.”
Al Jefferson will try to continue his dominance over the Suns. This season against Phoenix, Jefferson is averaging over 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. In Jefferson’s last 10 games, he’s averaging just over 14 points and 7.9 rebounds a game since returning to the lineup after missing three games due to a sprained ankle.
Although the Suns don’t have much to play for anymore this season, they do have pride. They’re entering Wednesday night’s game on a three-game losing streak of their own, their last game they won being against the Lakers. The Suns can even the season series at two apiece as the Jazz took two games away from them earlier in the season. The Suns have plenty of reasons to win this game, but the Jazz are hoping for a last minute playoff push which would see them in the eighth spot in the conference.
The Jazz have made it to the playoffs five of the last six years and look to make it for the sixth time in their last seven years. The Jazz have some hurdles to overcome before claiming a spot after the season’s over, including two games against the Trailblazers, another team in the hunt for the playoffs and a game against the Golden State Warriors, who are trying to hold on to their spot in the playoffs. But the Jazz will have to overcome a team who, with only 23 victories on the season, held the Lakers to 76 points just over a week ago and took Brooklyn to the limit in a 102-100 losing effort on March 24.
With their confidence riding high, the Jazz have a legitimate chance at making a run. Utah plays seven of its final 11 games at home, where they are 25-9. Randy Foye understands that his team has a fighting chance, and they won’t go down without it.
“Our attitude is no matter who we face, we’ve just got to take the fight to them, not wait for them to swing the first punch,” Foye said. “We usually wait for somebody to hit us with the hook before we fight back. We set the tone from the beginning.”
After hosting Phoenix, Utah will travel to Portland before returning home for a four-game home-stand.