Preview: Rockets (20-15) at Suns (22-13)

Suns 118, Rockets 110





One day after the Suns snapped a seven-game road losing streak that spanned the entirety of December, Phoenix will return home to the Valley attempting to end another ugly losing streak: that involving the vile second game of a back-to-back.

The Suns have dropped five straight such games and are 1-6 overall after having played the night before. The caveat is that this will be the first such back-to-back in which the second game is played in Phoenix.

Will that matter? It’s anybody’s guess, but what is known is that the Suns are flat-out horrible in these situations, with their only win coming in Philadelphia against a 10-24 Sixers team that led the Suns by 16 in the first half.

The obvious answer would be tired legs. For some reason the Suns just don’t have that pop during the second of consecutive games, as they have been beaten by an average score of 116-104  and have yielded 51.2 percent shooting as opposed to 44.7 percent in all other games. Of the six losses, four of them were blowouts and the other two were Phoenix collapses.

I really feel that something like this can become mental. There has been so much talk about “tired legs” and the like after the Suns lose a back-to-back game that at some level you’ve got to think the players start believing it a little bit. The Suns have often looked like a different team during back-to-backs, even for as inconsistent as they’ve been all year.

For that reason I think the crowd is actually a key to this game, especially against a Rockets squad that will make this a grind-it-out affair. The Phoenix crowd didn’t play extra minutes in Sacramento last night, so I think it has got a little extra responsibility to will the Suns a little bit tonight.

The Suns’ starters all did just play heavy minutes in Sacto — especially with the trio of Nash, Amare and Channing Frye all logging 39-40 minutes — but regardless of if the starters grinded the previous game out or sat the whole fourth quarter the Suns have always struggled in that next one.

One thing working to there advantage is the fact that Houston played an even later game and had to slug it out with the mighty Lakers. Three Rockets played in the 38-39-minute range in their 88-79 loss to the defending champs.

When Steve Nash was talking about how the Suns can’t just beat teams with talent, he was talking about games against teams like the Rockets. The Rockets are the No-Stars Playoff Contender. They’re a sight to behold with Aaron Brooks (17.9 ppg), Carl Landry (16.4), Trevor Ariza (16.2) and Luis Scola (14.4) as their four leading scorers. All four are very good players, but none of them are stars.

Maybe their best-known player, Shane Battier, is best known for being an unknown, and they start a 6-foot-6 center in Chuck Hayes. When the Rockets sent home the highest-paid player in the league, Tracy McGrady, it really made a statement about what exactly this Houston team is. All these years I thought a Yao-T-Mac duo should be able to do damage without help, and now a supporting cast by itself is a playoff team.

I really like the Rockets, I love their GM Daryl Morey AKA Dork Elvis, and I want to see a team like this that nobody believes in do well for what it would mean for the future of statistical analysis in the game of basketball.

And then, of course, I like the Rockets because of Chase Budinger, the former UA star who entered college as a heralded star but then slipped to the middle of the second round because of lateral quickness and toughness issues.

Chase averages 8.2 ppg and has been a solid contributor off Houston’s bench. This will be his first pro game in the state of Arizona and having covered Budinger at Arizona during his first two years as a collegian, I’m happy to see him carving out a role in the NBA. He’s only going to get better.

This visit from Houston also marks the start of a three-game winnable homestand. After putting together three four-game win streaks in the season’s first month, the Suns have not even won consecutive games aside from the beatings of the Lakers and Celtics last week.

So long as they don’t get tripped up by another back-to-back and play with the requisite intensity, I could see another four-game winning streak coming to fruition by this time next week.

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