The Utah Jazz travel to Phoenix to take on the Suns in a matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Western Conference, respectively on Wednesday night.
All 30 NBA franchises are heading into the final month-plus of play, with playoff seeding still looming quite large in the coming weeks.
Wednesday night’s action will feature one of the best games of the season.
The Suns are one of the only teams currently in the playoff picture that also have a winning record over the Jazz after defeating Utah in the first showdown all the way back at the end of December.
Which team will get the upper hand in this slugfest between Western Conference contenders? Let’s take a closer look at the latest Jazz – Suns odds.
NBA Odds: Jazz vs. Suns
Jazz -1.5 points (-115)
Suns +1.5 points (-105)
Over 227.5 points (-112)
Under 227.5 points (-108)
(All odds obtained via BetOnline.ag)
Why the Jazz could cover the spread
Utah is a different squad since the last time these two teams met towards the beginning of the season.
The Jazz have proven themselves capable of ripping off huge winning streaks following losses. They won 11 straight before suffering a loss to the Denver Nuggets at the end of January, then ripped off nine more wins immediately after. Utah had been riding another nine-game winning streak prior to taking a loss Monday against the Dallas Mavericks.
Quin Snyder’s team does everything well, but the Jazz are especially prolific from beyond the arc. The Jazz lead the league in three-pointers made and attempted, ranking second in three-point percentage at nearly a 40 percent clip.
The Jazz are able to spread opposing defenses out with their personnel. Donovan Mitchell can pull up off the dribble or break defenders down and make plays by getting to the cup and kicking to open teammates or finding cutters. Royce O’Neale stretches the floor at the 4-spot, and Joe Ingles can come off the bench and play the role of point-forward while also shooting the ball well from beyond the arc.
Ingles is just one reason why the Jazz’s bench unit is tough to deal with. Jordan Clarkson provides scoring off the bench and knows how to get to his spots. Derrick Favors adds rebounding and toughness in the front court, with Georges Niang having the ability to soak up some minutes and make for a difficult cover with his efficiency from the perimeter.
Here’s where the Jazz could really have an advantage over the Suns: on the boards.
Utah is the best rebounding team in basketball and hunts second-chance opportunities. Alternatively, the Suns rank just 21st in rebounding and are not the most persistent in crashing the offensive boards.
Both teams tend to operate in the half court. But Utah could have a big edge if it consistently gets offensive rebounds and extra chances to pad scoring numbers, whether from beyond the arc or in the paint.
Finally, Utah is likely to come out with a lot of intensity against another elite team that is challenging for the No. 1 seed, especially after taking a loss on Monday.
Why the Suns could cover the spread
The Suns have the defensive formula to combat Utah’s three-point heavy style.
Phoenix has held opponents to below 35 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The Suns held Utah to 12-for-34 shooting in the first matchup from three-point range.
Chris Paul will undoubtedly apply heavy pressure to whoever he is guarding, whether that’s Mitchell or Mike Conley. His knack for being a pest and getting into space could frustrate the Jazz’s top playmakers.
Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder will also play vital roles on the offensive end of the floor. Bridges can guard multiple positions and disrupts things with his length and athleticism. Crowder is a more physical presence who uses the body to harass ball-handlers.
Slowing Utah’s offensive attack will be imperative for the Suns in this one, as will establishing Deandre Ayton.
The former No. 1 pick’s scoring numbers are down, but he is quietly having a great year as a guy averaging close to 15 points-11 rebounds per game to go along with 1.1 blocks. He has been efficient on the low block and has even been very efficient in his midrange game.
It would not be a surprise to see the Suns work plenty of Paul-Ayton pick-and-rolls to force Rudy Gobert to guard on the perimeter and try to get switches with a guard on Ayton. That would also allow Paul the chance to break Gobert down off the dribble and either make plays for himself or draw extra defenders.
Another big element for the Suns is they do not need to score at the rim to have success.
The Jazz are holding opponents to below 50 percent shooting on two-point attempts, the best mark in the league. But Phoenix has prolific midrange scorers like Paul and Devin Booker who can pull up off the dribble and get to proper spots. Booker is tremendous working off screens and even getting into the post to set up scoring actions.
The Suns have every reason to feel confident heading into this one. They have won nine of their last ten, and Paul will certainly have his guys ready to go as they prepare to take on the top-seeded Jazz.
Final prediction and pick for Jazz-Suns
This very well could turn into a battle of wills between the two best teams in the Western Conference.
However, Utah’s dominance on the boards should loom large, especially if the Jazz can take care of the ball and make their share of triples.
Neither team has faced especially tough competition as of late, but the Mavericks handed Utah a bit of a wake-up call on Monday, with the loss possibly prompting the Jazz to elevate their level of play against another tough opponent.
FINAL PREDICTION & PICK: UTA 114, PHO 108 (UTA -1.5)