Jazz vs. Suns: Top two NBA teams clash

NBA Basketball

It isn’t often that the teams with the best records in the NBA meet in the regular season, and that occasion usually draws attention and celebrities.

Wednesday’s Utah Jazz-Phoenix Suns showdown is no different. It’ll be on ESPN, and there will be at least one noted celebrity in the crowd at Phoenix: John Cleese.

OK, so it’s not Drake, Spike Lee, Jack Nicholson, but the English actor of Monty Python fame added some levity to the lead-up of this showdown on social media. Cleese, who’s gone public with his Jazz fandom, tweeted out to his favorite NBA team’s Twitter account that he was hoping to attend the game since he’ll be in Phoenix with his daughter.

As fans offered help, Jazz owner Ryan Smith responded that he’d hook up Cleese. The comedian later posted that he’d made a mistake by asking for help and said he’d opened up his wallet.

“I assumed that with limited capacity and the two best teams playing, all the tickets would have long gone,” Cleese wrote. “Not so! So I BOUGHT two tickets.”

This should be a doozy of a game to watch.

“This is a big one. The one seed versus two seed,” Jazz star Donovan Mitchell said. “You try not to look at those things, but it’s hard not to.”

The Jazz enter with the NBA’s best record (38-12), having won nine of 10, while the Suns (35-14) come in on a six-game winning streak.

Each squad features young, high-scoring All-Star guards Mitchell (25.4 points per game) and Devin Booker (25.9), veteran All-Star point guards Mike Conley Jr. (16.6 points and 5.5 assists per game) and Chris Paul (16.0 points, 8.8 assists), and talented bigs Rudy Gobert (14.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks) and Deandre Ayton (14.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game).

They’re also both looking to gain an edge as the season nears the final stretch.

“These are teams that — if we want to get to our ultimate goal — we’re going to have to beat,” said Conley, also referring to Utah’s home game vs. Portland on Thursday. “They’re kind of catching their strides at the right time.

“We have to be able to win on the road in hostile environments, and Phoenix is a great place to challenge ourselves. … Looking forward to this test, that barometer to see where we’re at and keep punching.”

The Jazz are coming off of a 111-103 loss in Dallas on Monday, when the Jazz, the league’s top 3-point-shooting team, made only 12 of 44 attempts from beyond the arc. The Mavs shot 46.9 percent from 3-point range (23 of 49).

The Suns, meanwhile, escaped from Houston with a 133-130 win on Monday. As usual, it was Booker who did the heavy lifting offensively with 36 points.

“I was just taking what the defense gave me,” said Booker, who went 6-8 from 3-point range. “I got a couple of quick easy 3s and was just trying to win the game. … We wanted to get this one bad.”

In his team’s only other meeting with the Jazz this season, back on New Year’s Eve, Booker scored 25 points in the Suns’ 106-95 win in Salt Lake City, which, coincidentally, was the last time the Jazz have lost a home game.

Paul also had a big night Monday for Phoenix, when his 11 assists moved him into an exclusive club. He became only the fifth player with 10 or more assists in 500 career games. Jazz legend John Stockton (863) is the leader.

“He’s one of the best set-up guys I’ve ever seen,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “He understands how to get guys the ball, a lot like those other guys who are mentioned.”

Paul moved past 10,000 assists in his career earlier this season, and now ranks sixth in NBA history, with 10,074 — 67 behind Magic Johnson in fifth place. Stockton is the leader with 15,806.

–Field Level Media

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