SALT LAKE CITY — Phoenix sewed up home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with its victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night regardless of what happened on Wednesday in the Suns' season finale against the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.
But that didn't mean the Suns weren't playing for something. Suns coach Alvin Gentry wasn't about to rest his team's top players when a win would give them the No. 3 seed while a loss would have left them at No. 4.
Sure enough, the Suns played to win — and it showed in a 100-86 victory over the Jazz on newly-named Larry H. Miller court.
"It was a great way to finish the regular season," said Phoenix star point guard Steve Nash. "For a team that was picked by many to be outside looking in on the playoffs, to finish third in the West is rewarding. Most importantly we're playing well and heading into the playoffs we're feeling good."
Phoenix will play Portland in the first-round of the playoffs beginning on Sunday, while the Jazz fell to fifth and will open the playoffs on Sunday night at Denver.
"We've got great leaders," said Gentry when asked about his team's outstanding finish to the season. "We've got Amare (Stoudemire) and Steve (Nash) and Grant Hill). They do a great job of leading this team. But then we have a great group of followers. They guys fall in place."
The Jazz had more to play for than the Suns on Wednesday, but it was Phoenix that came out with the greater energy. Utah led by one with 2:19 to play in the first quarter, but the Suns went on an 11-4 run to end the quarter culminating with a 3-point jumper by Phoenix's Jared Dudley with 13 seconds left, giving Phoenix a 30-25 lead.
Utah would never lead again.
The Suns played without usual starting center Robin Lopez, instead going with longtime Jazzman Jarron Collins in his place. It was the Phoenix bench players, however, who made the big difference.
"That second unit were the ones that got us separation (from the Jazz)," said Gentry. "They do a good job and they totally believe in each other."
Phoenix's reserves, Channing Frye's 10 points, outscored the Jazz's bench players 30-2 in the first half as the Suns built up a 17-point lead at the break.1 comment on this story
A tribute to late Jazz owner Larry H. Miller at halftime couldn't even get the home team going, as the Suns continued to spoil the festivities. Miller's widow even made a bold prediction during the ceremony where the court was named after the longtime owner.
"We're going to win this game," Gail Miller said to cheers from the crowd at the half.
It wasn't to be, however, as Nash, Stoudemire and Co. ensured that there would be no miraculous comeback in this game by outscoring the Jazz by four in the third quarter to go up by 21 entering the fourth.
From there the Suns coasted to their 54th win of the season.