This is it, the last game of 2016. For reals. It's the Utah Jazz (20-13) hosting their regional rivals to the south, the Phoenix Suns (10-23). These two teams are pretty darned linked, so many guys have played for both sides, or coached, or announced, or whatever. Both have lost to the same teams in the playoffs as well, the Spurs, Lakers, and even the Bulls in the finals. Both are smaller market teams that are trying to make it out there in the NBA today. The Jazz are looking to make the playoffs this season, while the Suns are a few seasons behind.
It's going to be a fun game, regardless.
The Jazz are the 5th best team by record in the West, and the Suns are 14th. Utah plays slowly (last), gives up the fewest points per game (95.0) in the entire NBA, and has the 4th most efficient defense. Phoenix is the second fastest team in the NBA, give up the second most points per game (113.6) and have the 25th most efficient defense. The flip side is that Phoenix, with their fast pace of play put up 106.8 ppg (8th best). And Utah grinds away to only 99.2 ppg (24th). Of course, the Jazz have the 11th best ORTG in the land, and the Suns the 22nd . . . and we clearly see the influence pace has upon both squads.
This only makes sense. Earl Watson inherited a guard heavy group that includes Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Devin Booker, Leandro Barbosa, and others. What's he supposed to do? Quin Snyder has a bunch of bigmen to figure out, with Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Boris Diaw, and Trey Lyles. It's a contrast in how these two teams were built and the focus they have had to have.
Of course, that's not to say that Utah doesn't have guards (George Hill has been great) or that Phoenix doesn't have bigs (Tyson Chandler persists as a major obstacle). In fact, the Suns are 9th best in taking care of their own boards and 9th best in crashing the glass. They put in work there, and if Utah isn't ready for that then they could let Phoenix control the pace of this game. Conversely, the Jazz are the 4th best team in eFG%, a value that's hugely assisted by their dedication to the longball. Guys like Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson, and Hill have made guarding the Jazz a pain in the halfcourt.
Last season the Jazz swept the Suns 4-0, and historically have held their own in Utah, a 48-40 advantage. Of course the Suns have the 69-105 all-time lead though. These teams play only three times this season, Utah won the first game (December 6th) 112-105. After tonight there will be just one more game left, in January, in Phoenix. So this entire series will be wrapped up before the All-Star break. Crazy.