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After two straight losses, Utah Jazz can’t afford to underestimate the Phoenix Suns

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) celebrates his 3-pointer with guard Devin Booker (1) during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Phoenix. The Suns won 127-91. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP

SALT LAKE CITY — As far as the standings and NBA records go, there is no reason that the Utah Jazz (36-20) should be worried about the Phoenix Suns (23-34).

The Jazz are more experienced, are a playoff contending team and have the talent to take care of the young Suns team.

But any NBA team that glosses over an opponent, beware. There are plenty of reasons to be wary of the Phoenix team that will be at Vivint Arena on Monday night.

Deandre Ayton, the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick, is rounding into form as of late, scoring at least 20 points in five of his last seven games, and will be looking forward to a matchup against Rudy Gobert.

Devin Booker, who often draws comparisons to Donovan Mitchell, is also having himself a good season averaging 26.4 points and 6.3 assists per game.

Then there’s Ricky Rubio, whom many Utah fans lament losing in favor of Mike Conley this season.

Monday’s bout between the two Western Conference teams will be a mark for comparison across the board for both fanbases, but more importantly, the Jazz can’t afford to lose to a team that they absolutely should beat.

After consecutive losses Friday and Saturday to the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, who Texas two-stepped their way through Vivint, a loss to a lesser-performing team like the Suns would raise many more questions for Utah than there already are.

As of late, the problems for the Jazz have centered around lack of consistency and effort. Those are problems that are amplified in the NBA when a young and hungry team isn’t taken seriously. Give the Suns room to run and a chance to fire off and they’ll capitalize.

In the last five weeks, the Suns picked up wins against the Rockets, Spurs, Mavericks and Celtics — all teams that, on paper, should have been able to handle Phoenix with ease.

“We’re not good enough to just walk in games and play lackadaisical and take possessions off,” Conley said after Saturday’s 120-110 loss to Houston. “Good teams like that will beat us.”

So will bad teams. It’s like a shark sensing blood in the water. Weakness and fear and lack of focus are openings for any NBA team to unleash in front of an opponents home crowd. And, with just 26 games left for the Jazz in the 2019-20 regular season campaign, they can’t afford to drop winnable games.

Following Monday night’s contest, Utah will continue its five-game homestand on Wednesday and Friday against the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards respectively, before heading out on a four-game road trip.