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Preview: Houston Rockets (33-32) at Phoenix Suns (32-29)

Phoenix Suns 113, Houston Rockets 110

Rockets

Suns

The Aaron Brooks trade was consummated almost two weeks ago, yet Brooks has had to wait until tonight to make his debut in the Purple Palace.

And how fitting for his opening game in Phoenix to feature a visit from the only team he had ever previously known, the Houston Rockets.

A home debut for a new player will always be special, but those feelings have got to be intensified by the presence of the Rockets.

Brooks developed into a legitimate NBA player in Houston. He averaged just 5.2 points in limited minutes as a rookie, then 11.2 in 25 minutes during a sophomore campaign that featured a fantastic playoff series against the Lakers and then he exploded for almost 20 a game last year to win Most Improved Player honors.

But ultimately Houston decided to lock up Kyle Lowry for almost six million a year instead of Brooks, so you’ve got to believe AB will have a little extra juice in this one to prove to Daryl Morey that he made a mistake.

It will also be interesting to see who has the advantage between a Houston coaching staff as familiar with Brooks’ strengths and weaknesses as anyone in the league, and a player in Brooks who likely knows how he will be defended.

On the flip side, this game marks the return of The Dragon.

Suns coaches are just as accustomed to Goran Dragic, and this is an organization that decided his potential wasn’t worth waiting on during an inconsistent third season. One of Dragon’s biggest problems over the years has been turnovers and Alvin Gentry and company have seen firsthand how much Dragic struggles with pressure at times so I wonder if they will bring a little extra heat in this one.

While Brooks has played pretty well for Phoenix — averaging 8.8 points and 3.6 assists in 15.6 minutes per contest while shooting 55.2 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three — Dragic has been a bit less effective, averaging 7.8 points and 2.4 assists on 45.1 percent shooting from the field in 14 minutes per game.

It’s amazing that he will return to US Airways Center before his former backcourt mate Leandro Barbosa although it feels like LB was dealt years ago. I expect an overwhelmingly positive reaction to The Dragon. He really was beloved in Phoenix as he is such a good guy off the court and his exit was so alarmingly abrupt.

The trade brings about a handful of intriguing matchups with former starting job competitors Brooks and Lowry going at it, Dragic the apprentice going up against the master Nash and most certainly the backup point guards Dragic and Brooks trying to prove their new team got the better of the trade.

Houston’s trade deadline flurry of activity that also involved shipping out Shane Battier for Hasheem Thabeet and a first-rounder has brought the Rockets back to the precipice of the playoff picture. Houston has won seven of eight since the All-Star break after dumping Sacramento last night, moving to within three games of a playoff spot after being left for dead a few weeks ago.

Former Arizona star Chase Budinger, who now starts, has been a big part of the revival, averaging 17 points per game during the last eight games with explosions for 30 and 27 in the bunch.

Speaking of former Wildcats, Gentry must figure out how to replace Channing Frye in this one with the big man sidelined for 2-3 weeks with a dislocated shoulder.

Hakim Warrick should become the new starting power forward and I expect him to do a nice job as a pick-and-roll threat with Nash although he’s not nearly the spacer Frye is. Since Frye averages 32.5 minutes per game, I would expect some of his other time to be filled with some small ball lineups featuring Grant Hill, Mickael Pietrus or perhaps even Josh Childress at the four.

It’s too bad Gentry will need to settle on another new lineup with the Suns’ rotation finally rounding into form, especially upfront where Phoenix isn’t very deep to begin with. With a critical three-game homestand against three winning teams on the docket, he doesn’t have much time to tinker starting with this intriguing battle between two hot teams that ought to feature one heck of a backup point guard duel.

And 1

TNT will no longer televise Thursday’s game again Denver. It can now be seen on FSAZ Plus. … The Suns once again will host a team playing on the second game of a back-to-back. … I appeared on SportsCave.TV (below) to discuss the Suns’ turnaround, the Frye injury and more.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lbRbvanr_0&fs=1&hl=en_US]

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Tags: Aaron Brooks Channing Frye Goran Dragic Hakim Warrick

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