PHOENIX — Hakim Warrick came to Phoenix for a chance to revitalize his career next to Steve Nash for a playoff-caliber team craving a pick-and-roll player at the power forward spot.
Warrick showed flashes of being that guy throughout the first month and a half of the season, but ever since the Suns imported Marcin Gortat from Orlando Warrick has seen his role diminish by the day.
He went almost two months without scoring in double figures after the trade and he had not played more than 24 minutes in a game since the deal, with Gortat and Channing Frye doing the heavy lifting upfront.
But with Frye’s separated shoulder leaving a gaping hole in the Suns’ front line, Warrick took full advantage of the opportunity with the kind of performance that makes us remember why Hak was called Amare Lite at the beginning of the season.
Warrick scored a career-high 32 points on 14-for-19 shooting to go with eight boards and four assists in the Suns’ 113-110 victory over the Houston Rockets, a back and forth affair that wasn’t decided before Brad Miller missed badly on a potential game-tying three in the final seconds.
“I know, collectively, everyone is going to have step up their game,” Warrick said of the Suns without Frye. “He’s a big part of this team, this organization and he’s been playing so well for us, so I just wanted to go out there and be aggressive and just do my part.”
Warrick did that and more in his 40 minutes of work, which is about twice as much as he usually plays on a good night.
Hak was very bouncy in the lane, rising up quickly to finish plays, and he also knocked down 6-of-8 shots outside the paint, quite the efficient performance especially considering one was a stupid three.
For one night he offered up an Amare Lite performance, although we have seen this for stretches from Warrick before. He’s put up dominant halves like this but never a full game as he broke the 20-point mark for the first time since Dec. 5.
“Hakim’s had good games for us,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “He’s had really good games for us. He had a game where he had 26 points in the first half. I think he’s one of those guys who, the longer he’s out there, the more comfortable he gets. He got some early baskets that settled him down.”
It would be ridiculous to think Warrick will provide the Suns with anything close to a 32-8-4 on better than 70 percent shooting as his MO his whole career, especially this season, is to sprinkle in sparkling performances like this one with frustrating inconsistency.
But if Warrick can space the floor from mid-range and provide the Suns with a lethal pick-and-roll partner for Nash, they should be able to weather the storm without Frye.
On this night the Suns received some extra help from Vince Carter, who has exploded for 29 and now 32 in the last two games. Combined with Warrick’s effort the Suns got their first pair of players to score at least 30 in the same game since Amare and J-Rich pulled the trick March 22 of last season. Fitting, right?
Carter dominated the second half in a way J-Rich rarely did, scoring 23 points on 9-for-11 shooting while playing all but 2:09 of the half, and he singlehandedly kept the Suns in the game by scoring 11 of 13 during one stretch. Best of all, he never shot the Suns out of it with poor shot selection late, scoring eight more between the four- and two-minute marks of the game.
“It was a bounce back for me,” Carter said. “I couldn’t wait to get back on the floor.
“I wanted to give a better effort at the end of the game. I have to close the game out. That last five minutes is when I thought about it most, just go out there and be the player that you are.”
In the end, the much-hyped backup point guard battle of players facing their former teams was just a footnote in this one, but former Sun Goran Dragic was the clear winner.
Dragic incessantly pestered Brooks and seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder as he got right up into Brooks’ shorts on defense and went for six points and three assists in 12 minutes of action in which the Rockets gained five points. He missed all four of his shots got to the line eight times.
Brooks, meanwhile, went scoreless while missing six shots and handing one just one helper in 12:29.
“Both of them are trying to find their way,” Gentry said. “I’m extremely happy with Aaron. I think he’s going to be a very good player as I told the coaches on Houston’s team that Goran’s going to be a pretty good player, but right now they’re trying to find their way and figure out how they can help their team and both of them are going to be fine, I think.”
Dragic drew warm applause from the Phoenix faithful when he checked in at the tail end of the first quarter and played with a passion that he lacked much of the season. Clearly matching up against his mentor and the guy he was traded for meant a little something extra to The Dragon.
“It’s emotional,” Dragic said. “For sure you want to show the people that you can play, that you’re good enough, and that’s just business.”
Neither Dragic nor Brooks factored into the outcome with Kyle Lowry going off for 32 points and seven threes and Nash managing the game with 14 assists despite taking only five shots.
His missed free throw after five makes gave Houston one final chance to tie, but when Jared Dudley prevented the piping hot Lowry from getting a shot off and Miller’s desperation heave missed everything the Suns had themselves a win against a sizzling Rockets team that had won seven of eight.
Mickael Pietrus earned himself an early trip to the showers with 9:03 remaining in the second quarter by verbalizing a choice word that started with an ‘F’ to a ref. Gentry’s thoughts on losing Pietrus while shorthanded: “I don’t want to say it. I don’t think it’s for PG TV. I was a little disappointed in that. We’re a little bit shorthanded, and obviously we need him.” … The Suns have won seven in a row against Houston, matching the longest streak in series history for either squad. The last such run started in 1969. … Phoenix has scored at least 110 in eight straight against the Rockets for the first time since the early 1970s. They have averaged 115.3 points per game during the stretch. … The Suns have won eight of 12 against winning teams. … Marcin Gortat went for 13 points and 16 big boards as the Suns won the rebounding battle 41-36. … The Suns overcame their eighth home double-digit deficit of the year. They have 18 home wins. … The Suns have won six in a row after a loss. … Aside from Gortat’s 13, Phoenix got just two points (from Josh Childress of all people) off the bench. … This one was a Wildcat reunion of sorts with Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger starting and Lute Olson and former Cat Mohamed Tangara sitting courtside. Matt Brase and Jesse Mermuys (former members of the program) watched the game as scouts, and Frye, of course, was there in street clothes. … Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and former D-back Orlando Hudson were in attendance as well.