The Utah Jazz’s challenging schedule to begin the 2022-23 season continues Friday night in Salt Lake City when they host the Phoenix Suns.
A matchup against one of the elite teams in the Western Conference might even seem more daunting considering the Jazz have cooled down considerably from their red-hot 10-3 start by losing three games in a row.
Remarkably, though, this rebuilt Utah squad has put together an unexpected amount of success so far despite playing the most games of any NBA team through Nov. 15 — 16 — and a difficult 10 on the road. As the team website noted, the Jazz have also played the most back-to-back sets to this point (four), with all of those games taking place in different cities.
Even playing at home earlier this week wasn’t as big of an advantage as one might assume, seeing as the Jazz were returning from a three-game Eastern Conference trip and only had one day between games.
“It’s a grind,” Jazz big man Kelly Olynyk said. “We were worn out at the end of that trip in Philly and then coming back, and you get back at 6 a.m. East Coast time.”
The rest of November isn’t much kinder to the Jazz.
Beginning Friday vs. Phoenix, Utah will play eight games in 13 days the rest of this month, including two apiece against the Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers.
While acknowledging the brutal schedule, the Jazz aren’t using it as an excuse — nor do they believe they need to do wholesale changes to what worked for them while reaching the 10-win mark quicker than any other NBA team.
“It’s not like we’re going through this three-game losing streak, like, ‘Damn, we had no chance at any game, and we need to go back to the drawing board and rip up everything else,’ you know? We’re still right there, still competing,” Olynyk said. “When we’re playing well and playing together and doing what we did the first, whatever it was, games, we’re a good basketball team.”
The Jazz will need to play that way to hold home court against Phoenix, which picked up a 130-119 victory over Golden State on Wednesday to remain near the top of the West.
The impressive part about the Suns’ win over the struggling Warriors was the balanced offensive attack.
While Devin Booker had his usual big night with 27 points, it was Cameron Payne who registered a career-high 29 to lead the offensive attack. All of Phoenix’s starters hit double figures in scoring. That included 23 points, nine assists and nine rebounds for Mikal Bridges, a 13-point, 10-rebound effort by Torrey Craig, and a solid outing from Deandre Ayton (14 points, seven boards).
Payne has three 20-point outings while starting the past four games in place of Chris Paul, who has a heel injury.
That all helped counter a 50-point night by Steph Curry.
“It’s important to have a team,” Booker said. “That gives you longevity and will get us through a season.”
The Suns’ offensive explosion included 21-for-40 shooting from 3-point range (52.5 percent).
Utah, which hasn’t played since losing to New York at home Tuesday night, will visit Phoenix for a rematch on Nov. 26.
–Field Level Media