This is it.
One game to determine who will be the Northwest Division champs.
One game to possibly avoid playing the dreaded Lakers until the WC Finals.
One game to earn homecourt advantage in at least one round of the playoffs.
I don’t know if I can recall a bigger regular season game for the Utah Jazz in recent memory. Everything is there for the taking, and there is a ton of value at stake.
If there was ever a game this season that the Jazz needed to bring their all, this is the one. All of the past games are no longer important, and you cannot regret the games that you blew or threw away. With this one game you can erase it all and put yourselves in a position to achieve one of the main goals that was set for you in the beginning of the season: Win your division.
So, what’s it going to take?
Well, when you look at the opponent, it’s going to take a few things:
1) Stop Amare Stoudemire
If you were not aware, Amare Stoudemire is not only averaging 27 ppg over the last 2 months on 60% shooting, but the Jazz have had problems with him all season long. STAT is averaging 30 ppg against the Jazz this season, including a 44-point outburst in their last meeting. In addition to Tigger’s already amazing ability, the Jazz might be without Carlos Boozer, which would leave Paul Millsap with the undesirable job of having to defend the great leaper. Unfortunately, if Millsap is forced to defend Stoudemire, it is probably going to be a long night for the Jazz. But remember, one man alone cannot beat a team. Although if anybody can right now, it would be Amare.
2) Slow down Steve Nash
Some time during the 3rd quarter last night, I saw Steve Nash come up a little lame on one of his legs. I don’t think it’s anything serious, but we need all the help we can get when it comes to defending the two-time league MVP. He has shown ease in getting by Deron Williams with his quickness, and he can be a nightmare for an opposing team. His passing ability is up there with the best of them, and his shooting ability is unfairly good. If the Jazz have any hope of winning this game, D-Will is going to need to slow down Nash and force him into unfavorable situations. If Williams lets him prance all over the court, doing whatever he desires, then the Suns will control the tempo of the game, and they will control the scoreboard as well. Not to mention Utah’s playoff seeding.
3) Limit their 3 pointers made
The Suns can stroke the 3-point ball so well that it can get under the skin of any opponent. If they are hot from the outside tonight, the Jazz could be saying good bye to the Northwest Division title. Between Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, and Steve Nash, in addition to others, the Suns boast a roster filled with 3-point killers. Their ability to stretch the defense has caused problems for the opposition in so many games this season, and the Jazz need to make sure that they are not the next victim. In order to do this, the Jazz are going to need to play solid defense, and they are going to have to close out on all 3-point shots. Of course, a little bit of luck will also be needed. Sometimes guys are on, and sometimes guys are off. That’s just the way it is. Let’s hope that tonight is one of those off nights.
4) Get crowd involved early
Many people may overlook this, but being at home is a tremendous advantage for the Jazz. If you don’t believe me, just look at their 32-8 home record, which currently features a 10-game winning streak. If the Jazz want to get the most out of their homecourt advantage, they are going to need to start the game off hot, so that the crowd can remain involved throughout. Yes, the fans love it when the Jazz throw out one of their amazing comebacks. But tonight is just not the time to be playing with fire. With one game left to determine your postseason fate, you do not want to get down early and give up one of the key advantages that you have. There is no question that the crowd will be loud. After all, look at the importance of this game. But ‘how’ loud the crowd will be, and for ‘how long,’ will be determined by the performance of the hometown team. It’s time to step up, Jazz. The time is now!