PHOENIX — The Utah Jazz had been playing their best basketball. They were on a season-high four-game winning streak. Coming into Friday night's game, they were even feeling good about their last performance away from home.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, not every road game can be against a pushover like the Los Angeles Lakers.
What's that saying about some habits being hard to break?
The Jazz returned to their old struggling selves on the road — playing with less aggression and precision than their hosts yet again — and left US Airways Center with a win-streak-snapping 99-84 setback to the Phoenix Suns.
"It's a trap because you feel good about how you're playing, but it's another game and you can't rely on how you play in that game and think it's just going to transfer over," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said after his team fell to 4-10 on the road. "You've got to go out and do it. We just didn't come out with a sense of urgency from the beginning of the game."
In his pregame interview, Corbin was fearful of what might happen if the Jazz allowed the free-flowing Suns to dictate the pace. He saw the results of a similar situation in Houston two weeks ago when Utah was blown out, 124-116, at Toyota Center.
From the opening tip Friday, the Suns came out more energized, bursting out to a quick 6-0 lead. Utah briefly played more like the team that had just taken down the then-NBA-leading Spurs rather than a lost-looking puppy, even grabbing a one-point lead at 13-12.
Utah's time on top lasted as long as a snowflake in Phoenix.
That happens when you don't execute, when you aren't as physical, when you get pushed around and don't cut or run as hard as your opponent, as Corbin pointed out.
Jared Dudley keyed a 7-0 run and the Suns really never looked back. Phoenix scored a season-best 34 points in the first quarter and went up by 20 points in the opening half. The Suns then answered Utah's inevitable second-half surge, turning a shaky four-point lead with four minutes left in the third quarter into a 21-point advantage in the fourth.
A combination of costly turnovers, technical fouls from Derrick Favors and Corbin and an inability to handle the Suns on either end led to a hard-fought comeback evolving back into a blowout.
It also resulted in Corbin taking a few extra minutes in the visitors locker room discussing things with his team.
"We wanted to make sure we understand where we were. We have to play better," Corbin said. "We didn't play our best game tonight. Give them credit. They played harder and they made shots against us tonight."
Dudley led the Suns, winners of two straight after a seven-game losing skid, with a season-high 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with five assists, four rebounds and three steals. Point guard Goran Dragic, Steve Nash's replacement, added 17 points for a Suns team that outplayed the Jazz inside, outside and in transition.
Al Jefferson topped Utah's anemic offensive effort with 14 points. Like his teammates, the center struggled from the floor, missing 10 of 16 shots on a night the Jazz combined to shoot only 40.2 percent.
"Give them credit. They played like they wanted the win," Jefferson said. "That's just the way it goes sometimes. It wasn't our night."
That was especially the case in the first quarter when Utah was outscored by 12 and in the fourth when the Jazz only put 19 points on the scoreboard.
"We know what we need to do. Coming off of a big win, we can't come in to a team like this and just lay down," said Jazz forward Paul Millsap, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. "We felt like we didn't play our best game today, but we've just got to move on from it."
The fact the Suns (9-15) just beat the powerful Memphis Grizzlies likely won't offer much consolation.
The fact the Jazz (13-11) get a chance to bounce back quickly tonight at ESA against the Grizzlies does.
"We're not there yet, obviously. We still have some work to do," Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward said after his 0-for-5, three-point night. "The good thing is we can put this one behind us. We need a big win (tonight). It's going to be huge for us to come out and play with a lot of energy, especially form the beginning, and jump on Memphis."
NOTES: Big Al had 14 points and 11 rebounds to notch his 13th double-double. The 84-point outing was the Jazz's second-lowest scoring game of the season, but the lowest in a loss. Utah won at Washington, 83-76, on Nov. 17. In his second game back from a five-game absence due to plantar fasciitis, Favors had a nice night for the Jazz, with 11 points and eight rebounds. "He's got his confidence and timing back," Corbin said. "I thought he responded well." The Suns held a pregame moment of silence to honor the lives lost in Friday morning's tragedy in Connecticut.
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