Welcome to the ultimate pre-playoff battle, the game of the year, the showdown in Salt Lake City. 7:30, TNT. The stage is set, the starters are not, and my heart is pounding with anxiety. Can the Suns pull this off? Is this the end? Will Grant Hill play well in his comeback? Will Channing Frye look good in a suit?
Before we get an answer to these questions, let’s go back a step or two, and examine how the heck did the Suns even get into this position? They were written off, they were in terrible position prior to the All-Star break, they lost to Toronto, they lost to Cleveland, they lost the home opener… Every single one of those games, could’ve given the Suns an easier road to the playoffs. But, Eric Gordon jumpers, Markieff Morris miscues, and Kyrie going insane killed the chances of that, and left the Suns with a simple ultimatum: Win, or go home to say goodbye to your fans in an meaningless game.
The Suns are coming into Utah with injuries to both of their starting forwards, both of whom are game-time decisions. Channing Frye doesn’t seem to have much of a shot at coming back from his shoulder subluxation, but Grant Hill’s knee is feeling better, and might allow him to come back — probably off the bench. The Jazz have a bit of a deficit on the wings, as C.J. Miles is out, along with backup point guard Earl Watson, which in turn means a start for DeMarre Carroll at Small Forward. DeMarre, by the way, goes about with a monicker that Jared Dudley likes to use from time to time – The Junkyard Dog. That forward spot is going to get really scrappy, one would guess.
If you’ve read the two earlier features today, you’ll know two things: Markieff has huge shoes to fill and a lot to jump into, and the Jazz have a killer front court. To put this even more into perspective, if the Jazz’s backup big guys were ranked on Basketball-Reference’s leader board in offensive rebound percentage, they’d be 3rd (Kanter) and 6th (Favors). In fact, Kanter’s offensive rebound percentage is just .6 lower than Lopez’s defensive rebound percentage (which, once again, is identical to Josh Childress’). That battle in the trenches of the benches (hey, rhymes) will be a big key to the game, especially if the Suns’ starters have trouble establishing an early lead.
At the beginning of the season, the Suns wanted to show everyone that they were wrong about them, that they didn’t know what that team was really about. They fought, they failed and they succeeded, and now, today and tomorrow, they have a chance to flip the doubters off and proudly said, that even when they were down, they didn’t give up, and instead stood strong and together. Among questions about Steve Nash’s destination, and cries for a tank job, they persevered. Tonight, even if they will be embarrassed, even if this indeed will be Steve Nash’s last game in a Suns road uniform, the Suns will be able to say that they never folded shop, that they never gave up, that they never flipped their fans off the way some teams (cough cough, Golden State, cough cough, Portland) did. In the end, it’s quite simple: Steve Nash didn’t give up on his team, the team didn’t give up on him. What happens next?
We’ll see on the other side.