For the first time since Dec. 8 when they were 11-10, the Phoenix Suns moved above .500 with a 95-83 victory over the Utah Jazz Friday night.
It was the second time the Suns have beaten the Jazz this season, and ironically, both times have been in Utah. The Suns are now a much different team than the one who won in Utah back in October, but the Jazz are a different team as well.
The players were the same, but this was the first game for Utah without Jerry Sloan being their head coach since 1988. He resigned earlier this week, so this game had added national appeal.
In what was obviously an emotional game for the Jazz and their fans they charged out to an early 31-19 at the end of the first quarter. The teams played even in the second quarter, so the Jazz went to the half with 12-point lead as well.
It looked like the Jazz might just coast in with a victory, but the Suns had other plans. Robin Lopez scored 11 points in the third quarter by himself while the entire Jazz team only had 13.
Overall in the second half, the Suns showed remarkable defense. After scoring 31 and 25 in the first and second quarters, the Jazz could only muster 27 total points in the third and fourth quarters combined.
Defense was key for the Suns because they did not shoot the ball particularly well from the field. They made just five of their 23 three-point attempts and shot just 40 percent overall.
Now that they're above .500, can Phoenix make the playoffs?
Rather than finding ways to lose, the Suns have found ways to win during their recent ascent to above .500 and into playoff contention.
Another positive that came out in this Suns victory was that they attacked the rim and didn’t just settle for jump shots. The Suns shot 23 free throws compared to the 12 the Jazz took. The Suns also grabbed more rebounds and turned the ball over less than the Jazz.
Individually, Steve Nash again set the pace for the Suns with another double-double. He scored 18 points to go along with his 10 assists. Marcin Gortat also had a double-double off the bench. He scored 12 points and grabbed 10 boards, but Hakim Warrick was the star off the bench tonight.
Warrick scored 16 points on six-of-eight shooting. Robin Lopez showed some fight, as well, with 14 points in just 17 minutes. If he can keep producing like that, it should mean more minutes for him and more W's for the team.
Deron Williams, who has been the lightning rod of criticism in the midst of the Sloan resignation, played like the All-Star he is, collecting 19 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds. Unfortunately for Jazz fans, outside of C.J. Miles, who also had 19, he did not get much help.
These two teams play for the final time this season on Tuesday, Feb. 15 in Phoenix, and although it may not have looked like it two weeks ago, the game will have big playoff implications for both teams.