November 01, 2014

Just as they were moving past an awful stretch that put a dent in their playoff hopes, the Utah Jazz have been hit with the news that Gordon Hayward needs to rest his ailing foot.

Fortunately for them, Rodney Hood seems more than willing to come to the rescue.

Hood will try to build on one of his best performances as Utah looks to inch closer to a playoff spot with its fourth consecutive victory Thursday night against the visiting Phoenix Suns.

Seventh in the Western Conference, the Jazz were closing in on their first playoff berth since 2011-12 before a 3-10 stretch from Feb. 10-March 9 dropped them three games out of a spot.

They averaged just 96.8 points on 43.9 percent shooting during that slump before scoring 111 per game with a 51.7 field-goal percentage in back-to-back victories. That momentum didn't seem likely to last without the injured Hayward, averaging a team-high 20.1 points.

Instead, Hood stepped up with 28 points, Derrick Favors scored 19 and Shelvin Mack added 17, 10 assists and seven rebounds in Monday's 94-85 home win over East-best Cleveland. The Jazz shot 49.3 percent and made 12 of 27 3s.

They're shooting 46.5 percent from beyond the arc in their last four games after shooting 28.3 in the previous seven.

''Rodney did what Rodney does,'' coach Quin Snyder said. ''I'm sure he was aware of (missing Hayward's offense), but I don't think he hunted shots. I just thought he was really aggressive."

Hood certainly looked better after averaging 10.7 points on 38 percent shooting while dealing with a sore lower back in his previous seven games. Mack, acquired from Atlanta on Feb. 18, has averaged 19.3 points while hitting 10 of 16 from beyond the arc over his past three.

The Jazz (32-35), who are back within a couple games of the final playoff spot, hope Hood can keep leading the way if Hayward remains sidelined because of plantar fasciitis. Hayward's loss would be big in this contest since he's averaging 23 points in his last five versus Phoenix.

Hood finished with 25 in a 98-89 road win over the Suns (18-49) on Feb. 6. Favors scored 18 and Hood added 14 in a 110-89 victory in Salt Lake City on Dec. 21.

After allowing opponents to put up 114.2 points per game and shoot 42.9 percent from 3-point range in their previous 14 games, the Suns showed some improvement Monday by holding Minnesota to 4 of 16 from beyond the arc in a 107-104 home victory.

''Once you start shutting teams down, it leads to easy offense," guard Devin Booker said.

P.J. Tucker had a career-high 23 points and 12 rebounds, Mirza Teletovic had 21 and hit the winning 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left as Phoenix won for the sixth time in its last 39 games. The club now has an opportunity to claim only its second set of back-to-back victories since Dec. 9.

Booker has been a bright spot, averaging 25.1 points over his last seven games. The rookie guard led the Suns with 18 in the most recent meeting with the Jazz.

Brandon Knight hopes to recover after scoring eight points on 3-of-18 shooting Monday.

The Suns have dropped three in a row and six of the past seven matchups in Salt Lake City.

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