PHOENIX — Before facing his old teammate and assistant, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin smiled while saying he’d love to give Jeff Hornacek the first loss of his head-coaching career.
Gordon Hayward was also excited to face his former mentor.
Hornacek was the one with the biggest grin Friday after this conflict of interest at US Airways Center.
Moments after Hayward tied this contest with a long 3-pointer, Suns guard Eric Bledsoe drained a deep shot from beyond the arc with 0.7 seconds remaining to lift Hornacek’s surprising Phoenix squad to an 87-84 victory over Utah.
The Jazz lost for the second time in their rebuilding season, while the Suns improved to 2-0 in the Hornacek Era.
Utah had a slim chance to force overtime, but Hayward took an inbounds pass and stepped on the line while heaving up a tying attempt in front of the Jazz bench.
It was the second straight night that ended in disappointment for Hayward. The Jazz’s shooting guard was unable to reach a contract agreement with Utah before Thursday’s extension deadline for the 2010 draft class.
"We came out and played hard, but hopefully we get the next game," Jazz power forward Derrick Favors said. "It's tough, especially losing by three points. ... We've got to have a short memory and be ready (Saturday) night."
The Jazz return to Utah for a back-to-back outing against Houston at EnergySolutions Arena.
Though the Jazz lost Friday, this game gave a preview of things the franchise hopes is in store for the future.
Recently promoted center Enes Kanter, Favors and Hayward each had double-doubles while taking a second consecutive contest down to the wire.
Kanter led the Jazz with 20 points to go with 12 rebounds, Favors had a massive night on the glass with a career-high-tying 17 rebounds and 14 points, and Hayward added 18 points and 10 rebounds.
After a quiet start, reserve guard Alec Burks got things rolling in the second half and finished with 15 points two nights after pouring in a team-high 24 in the season-opening 101-98 loss to Oklahoma City.
Those performances came hours after Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to Hayward and the other three cornerstones.
“I know we want to make it about Gordon right now, but it’s really about the group,” Lindsey said during an interview in which he talked about renewing negotiations with Hayward this summer. “Derrick’s in a new role. Enes is in a new role. Trey (Burke)’s new. Gordon’s going to be in a new role. Alec’s going to be with the ball.”
That’s just what the Jazz want and why they let six veteran free agents, including Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, venture to different NBA teams this past offseason.
“We let a lot of good veterans go to allow the younger core to rise to prominence,” Lindsey said.
It was interesting for the Jazz to get an up-close-and-personal match-up with another member of the franchise that left Utah this past offseason.
Hornacek joked with familiar faces from Utah before the game. Prior to tipoff, the beloved member of the Jazz family, as an NBA Finals-era player and coach, gushed about the guys he used to help oversee.
The Jazz core? “They’re very talented. They can do some phenomenal things.”
Hayward? “I truly believe in a couple of years he can be an All-Star in this league if he continues to work on his game.”
Utah’s jumbo Junior Jazz guys? “Between Enes (Kanter) and Derrick (Favors), those two guys are monsters on the board.”
Will he closely follow this Utah group? “I think it’s only natural.” He did, after all, help them every day during the past several seasons. To that point, Hornacek admitted this matchup might feel like a practice from years past.
“Most of the times when we scrimmaged,” he said, “I was coaching the group that we have out there right now.”
Hornacek didn’t correct himself about the “we” he dropped while referring to Jazz youngsters Hayward, Favors, Kanter and Alec Burks, who used to be on his practice squad.
The Suns coach, who was with the Jazz in various coaching capacities since 2007, said it’s been fun to watch the progression of that group.
“These guys are all great players,” he said. “Except for when we play them, it’s exciting to watch them, because I think they’re very good and they have bright futures.”
Hayward, who’s spent the past few weeks wondering if he’d get that contract extension, anticipated playing against Hornacek’s team. The former Jazzman was a mentor to Utah’s shooting guard since the Butler star was selected ninth overall in 2010.
“I’ve talked to Coach several times. He’s a friend, just asked for advice,” Hayward said. “He’s played the same position that I am in this league. We had a great relationship when he was here in Utah.”
Unfortunately for the Jazz, Hornacek’s team got the upper hand this time.
Bledsoe took over down the stretch, hitting several free throws and that game-winning 3-pointer en route to a team-high 18 points for the overhauled Suns. Interestingly, Bledsoe, another 2010 draftee, could not reach an extension agreement with Phoenix on Thursday.
The Jazz again struggled from the free-throw line, missing 10 free throws for the second-straight game (17-for-27), shooting just 36.5 percent and scoring only 84 points. Utah also had a turnover problem after coughing up the ball 22 times Wednesday.
"Young guys or not," Corbin said, "we have to make free throws and we can't turn the ball over."
Hayward said the Jazz need to clean up their execution, too.
"Both losses came down to the wire," he said. "I said this the other night, we have to be able to execute offensively down the stretch. ... It's definitely fixable."
The Jazz will get a chance to avenge this loss to the man whose No. 14 jersey is hanging in the rafters of the old Delta Center later this month.
Hornacek’s return to his home-away-from-home will come on Nov. 29.
"It’ll probably be more strange when we go up to Utah than it is here," he said. "But it should be fun."
To clarify, Hornacek said that before his team beat the Jazz.
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