EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns begin final 2 weeks of regular season with win vs. Jazz

Mar 27, 2023, 8:32 PM | Updated: 8:37 pm

Terrence Ross #8 of the Phoenix Suns drives against Kris Dunn #11 of the Utah Jazz during the first...

Terrence Ross #8 of the Phoenix Suns drives against Kris Dunn #11 of the Utah Jazz during the first half at Vivint Arena on March 27, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Surely that’s it, right?

Monday’s 117-103 Phoenix Suns win over the Utah Jazz will hopefully for their sakes represent the end of so much rotation juggling all season due to injury with the anticipated return of Kevin Durant (left ankle sprain) on Wednesday. It’ll be 13 days and seven games of the regular season to go, all with a fully fit roster.

A shorthanded Utah team without Jordan Clarkson (finger sprain), Simone Fontecchio (turf toe), Rudy Gay (back soreness) and Collin Sexton (hamstring strain) gave the Suns the opportunity to win a second straight and establish a little bit more momentum before Durant’s return.

This game came down to three sections.

Phoenix looked like it was going to run away with it after a 37-26 first quarter. But after it had a stretch in the second quarter of missing 17 out of 18 shots, it allowed Utah back in the game. The Jazz’s zone defense persisted in throwing off the Suns’ rhythm through the mid-third quarter.

After that, though, some shots for the supporting cast finally started going down and the lack of hesitation lifted up the offense again. It was the third straight game Terrence Ross (13 points) and T.J. Warren (nine) were effective as reserves. A 14-5 start to the fourth quarter from an all-reserve lineup got the Suns back up 12 and head coach Monty Williams was on his way to playing it the rest of the way until Utah lingered long enough for three starters to come back in with five minutes left and close it out.

Devin Booker looked like he was about to torment the people of Salt Lake City yet again before cooling off considerably. He had 18 of his 24 points in the first quarter and shot 2-for-10 in the remaining three quarters. Booker took some type of blow to his right hand on a drive in the second quarter, the same hand he awkwardly jammed on Friday in Sacramento. While his shots weren’t online, he didn’t look all that affected by it the rest of the game.

Ross was one of the Phoenix players missing shots in that absolute struggle of a second quarter, but as we’ve come to learn with him, that will not deter him. Confidence is a skill and Ross’ let him find a groove in the second half that was imperative to Phoenix’s win. Seven of its 14 points to open that final frame were from Ross, with the other seven coming via Bismack Biyombo (11 points) and Cam Payne (12).

Warren, as mentioned, was in that mix too and clocked in at a game-high plus-24. Those four guys, plus Landry Shamet, will have to adjust once more after finding a rhythm because of how Durant’s minutes will affect the rotation.

Deandre Ayton returned after a four-game absence due to a right hip contusion and scored 14 points.

While the Jazz at now 35-40 are nearly out of it, this was one of five games out of the Suns’ last eight that is against teams still vying for positioning in the Western Conference standings that ranges from fourth to 12th. The 40-35 Suns are starting to distance themselves from teams three-plus games out in the loss column like the Los Angeles Lakers (37-38), Oklahoma City Thunder (37-38) and Dallas Mavericks (37-39) that are simply running out of time to make up that amount of ground.

Eventually, the math will start mathing for the teams sandwiched in-between as well if the Suns just keep winning.

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