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Grayson Allen takes advantage of opportunity with big game in Phoenix

SALT LAKE CITY — He may not play Friday night against Sacramento, nor in any of the three games the Jazz play next week to finish the regular season.

However, Grayson Allen will always remember Wednesday night’s game at Phoenix, perhaps the best of his rookie season, which has been a disappointment in many ways.

Allen, a first-round pick out of Duke, has played in just 33 games this season, less than half of Utah’s 78 games and came into Wednesday’s game averaging just 3.8 points in less than 10 minutes per game.

Yet with the Jazz missing four key players against the Suns, Allen was called upon by coach Quin Snyder early and often and the 23-year-old rookie came through. He scored a season-high 14 points — more than he’s scored total since the All-Star break, making 6 of 9 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers — and played a solid defensive game.

After the game, it seemed like everyone in the Jazz locker room wanted to talk about Allen.

“Gray-son Al-len — he did his thing today,” said Donovan Mitchell, who lamented he failed to give the rookie one of his famous “water showers” like he does to Jazz players who are being interviewed after a good game. “Man, he’s worked so hard. The best thing about it was it wasn’t just the offensive end, it was the defensive end. He was efficient with 14 points, but he was chasing screens, contesting, had the block. … He did so many things people don’t really understand. He took a huge leap when presented with that opportunity.”

“It was big for us,” Rudy Gobert said. “It showed the work (he’s) been putting in behind the scenes has been paying off. I think this was his best defensive game — he was chasing down the shooters and was able to recover and had a big block. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to allow him to stay on the floor.”

Coach Quin Snyder talked about Allen’s “poise,” adding, “His experience in the G League really helped him. There’s nothing like game experience, being able to go out and compete and he’s continued to work. Obviously it’s one game but you feel good about putting time in and seeing results. Particularly in a game when we had a number of guys who weren’t able to play, it was really important.”

That block Mitchell and Gobert referred to came midway through the second quarter when Allen came flying in from behind to swat away Josh Jackson’s layup attempt. The Jazz bench went wild, and it even had the Suns’ crowd buzzing for a moment.

As for Allen, he shrugged off his fine play afterward, saying he was just taking advantage of his opportunity,

“I’m just trying to stay ready,” he said. “I’ve been working, obviously, outside of the games with the coaches, two-on-two, three-on-three, and played some games in the G League also. The G League coaches, the coaches here, everyone has prepared me to go out there and play some extended minutes."

“It helped that I’ve been in that spot before in college, where I had a bunch of different roles," Allen added. "It’s the same thing, you just stay ready when you’re out there and play the same way. I felt like I’ve had a rhythm and felt comfortable. You always have to stay ready because you never know.”

Grayson played well in the Jazz preseason and some felt he might be a 15-minutes per night contributor. However after getting some consistent minutes early in the year and even one start, his playing time has diminished as the season has progressed, and over past two months Allen had only played in five games and scored a grand total of 13 points. Only once in those five games since Feb. 12 did he play more than 10 minutes in a game and only once scored more than 3 points before Wednesday.

“There’s more to come, but this is a great start,” said Mitchell of Allen.

“If he keeps working hard, he can be a big-time NBA player,” said Gobert.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: The Jazz have clinched a spot in the playoffs but are trying to gain home-court advantage and not be in the No. 5 spot for the third straight year. But they’ll need help, in a negative way, from Portland or Houston, the two teams who are just ahead of Utah in the Western Conference standings.

Utah is two games behind Portland and need the Blazers to lose at least two of their last four games, assuming the Jazz win their last four games against Sacramento Friday, the L.A. Lakers Sunday, Denver Tuesday and the L.A. Clippers Wednesday. If they lose one, they’ll need the Blazers to lose three games. The Jazz hold the tiebreaker edge with the Blazers on the basis of a better division record.

Houston is also two games ahead of the Jazz in the loss column and would need to lose all three of their remaining games for the Jazz to get home-court advantage since they have the tiebreaker edge over Utah.