Jazz visit Suns in high-stakes showdown

NBA Basketball

Matt Thomas made the most of some minutes with the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

The seldom-used Jazz forward, who recently signed with Utah, hit all seven shots en route to 17 points in a much-needed 154-105 walloping of Sacramento.

“It’s awesome,” Thomas said. “As a shooter and as a scorer, it always feels good when the ball is going in the basket. (Wednesday) was one of those nights where the basket looked pretty big to me.”

The Jazz (45-17) are going to need the hoop to look enormous Friday night in Phoenix (44-18) as they take on the Suns.

Because of two head-scratching losses to Minnesota in the past week, the Jazz are in danger of losing their grip on the No. 1 spot in the NBA and Western Conference as the regular season winds down.

Thanks to some big wins of late and consistent overall play, the Suns can pull even record-wise with a win Friday and already hold the tie-breaker with the Jazz.

Utah needed its win over the Kings something fierce after slipping vs. the Timberwolves. The Jazz bounced back in record fashion, using a 46-17 second quarter to propel them to a franchise-high point total and a lead as big as 54 points even without All-Stars Donovan Mitchell (ankle) and Mike Conley (hamstring).

“All of us were a little bitter after losing two straight to Minnesota,” said Jazz forward Georges Niang, who hit five 3-pointers and had 19 points. “So we really wanted to come out here and make a point.”

Or 154.

Meanwhile, Phoenix accomplished something it has missed out on for more than a decade. With an impressive 109-101 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Suns qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.

“Our players have worked their tails off. They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “I’m just happy for them.”

Team MVP Chris Paul scored 28 points while leading the Suns to the postseason again. He envisioned this happening when he joined up-and-coming star Devin Booker and Phoenix after being traded from Oklahoma City last offseason.

“I know who I am. I knew coming to this situation, I knew who ‘Book’ was. He told me about some of the guys on the team,” Paul said. “I knew playing for Monty, how detail-oriented he is.”

The Suns were boosted by Paul in the fourth after the Clippers surged to within one point, 93-92. He made three buckets in a row, and Phoenix went on to fend off an L.A. squad that was trying to get into the 1-2 conversation with the Suns and Jazz.

The Jazz, who clinched their playoff spot earlier in the week, have lost twice already to the Suns this season. Phoenix beat them in Utah on New Year’s Eve and again on April 7, 117-113 in overtime.

This will be the final matchup between them in the regular season. Each team has 10 games remaining.

“It was real intense,” Booker said of their last meeting. “I thought both teams played hard, defended really well.”

–Field Level Media

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