Houston Rockets 99, Phoenix Suns 81 -- As bad as it gets

Scola and the Rockets shut down Nash and the Suns. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The Houston Rockets closed out the first quarter with a 17-6 run and never looked back in a sloppy, turnover-laden 99-81 victory over the Phoenix Suns at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Phoenix had its second-worst scoring output of the season Friday night, mustering only 81 points on 41 percent shooting. This was only slightly better than the 79 points they managed in a victory over Boston 14 days ago. After scoring a season-high 120 points against New Orleans on Wednesday, the Suns couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn against a Rockets team that gave up 120 to Minnesota on Monday night.

The Rockets had three starters and four bench players score in double figures. Houston is a roster full of guys playing hard to earn minutes, and it showed. Their bench outscored the Suns’ starters 50-47.

Former Arizona Wildcat Chase Budinger had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes of action. Courtney Lee and Patrick Patterson both scored 12 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field. Patterson was able to score down low in the post and also step out to hit the jump shot. He pulled down three of the Rockets’ 14 offensive boards. Former Sun Goran Dragic also had 10 points while spelling Kyle Lowry.

The lone bright spot on Phoenix’s bench was Shannon Brown. Brown was able to penetrate and get to the hoop easily for most of the game en route to 12 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Markieff Morris played aggressively in the garbage time fourth quarter taking 10 shots and scoring seven points.

Markieff missed out on the opportunity to play against his twin brother Marcus for the first time as Marcus was sent down to the D-League’s Rio Grande Vipers. The only other performance of note off the bench was that of Sebastian Telfair, who got the majority of the minutes at backup point guard. Telfair, like everyone else on the floor for Phoenix, was unable to jumpstart a very stagnant offense.

A game after setting the franchise record for assists, Steve Nash looked incredibly ordinary on the evening. Though he racked up nine assists (something I’m beginning to think he could literally do in his sleep), Nash took only five shots and scored only six points. The Rockets focused on him defensively all game. They trapped him in the corner on pick-and-rolls, forcing him into four turnovers. They also threw a second defender at him at the top of the key several times just to disrupt the flow of Phoenix’s offense. The Rockets were mostly successful there, with the exception of Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley.

Gortat looked dominant down low, scoring 15 points on a variety of strong post moves. He recorded his fourth straight double-double, pulling down 12 rebounds. Marcin also dominated his matchup with Samuel Dalembert on both ends of the floor. Dalembert’s only field goal came on a driving layup right off the opening tip. Other that that, Gortat kept the big man from Haiti in check and recorded three blocks on the night, two of which came on the same possession against Dalembert. The biggest issue with Gortat’s night was the team’s performance without him on the floor. The Suns settled for jump shots all night instead of attacking the rim. Shannon Brown and Gortat scored 27 of Phoenix’s 36 points in the paint.

Jared Dudley had a strong night shooting the ball as he scored in double figures for the fourth straight game. He connected on 5 of 10 shots, including 2 of 4 from downtown. While his shooting touch looked good, Dudley struggled at the rim, getting his shot blocked on several occasions.

Though he’s not the most athletic shooting guard in the league, Dudley must focus on getting the ball to the rim and not the defender’s position. Each time he attacks the basket it is evident he’s thinking about getting swatted. He must take the ball strong and use his big body to create contact while getting the ball up on the rim. Too often he gets blocked or stripped with the ball still in his hands.

In the first half, the Rockets could not miss. They built a 30-20 lead in the first quarter and then doubled it to 20 by halftime. Though their field goal percentage eventually dwindled to just under 44 percent, the Rockets were at 50 percent or more for most of the first half.

Kevin Martin, in just his third game back after missing a pair of contests with a foot injury, came out on fire by scoring 11 in the first quarter. The Rockets’ leading scorer only played 18 minutes total. Courtney Lee emulated Martin’s performance in the second quarter by scoring eight points on 4-for-6 shooting.

The Rockets’ successful offensive first half can be attributed to terrible Phoenix defense. Defensive assistant Elston Turner, who spent four seasons in Houston as an assistant to Rick Adelman, will not be happy when he reviews the tape of this game. The Suns gave up an incredible amount of uncontested or lightly contested layups. The penetration came from the wings and the top of the key, and pretty much every Suns player was guilty of letting his man get by him at least once. Rockets standout rookie Chandler Parsons got to the rim several times without a Suns defender within three feet of him.

In addition to putting in a turnstile in the paint, the Suns were again killed on the defensive glass. Houston grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and scored a total of 48 points in the paint. The Suns big men must have left their hands back in Phoenix as many of Houston’s second-chance points came from quick bounces off the rim. The Suns must do a better job of getting a body on a man, even with attempts at the rim.

The Suns, mainly Channing Frye and Gortat, also played awful defense on Luis Scola. Scola knocked down jump shot after jump shot on his way to a 14-point outing as Suns defenders sagged off him in a half-hearted attempt at help defense.

When asked about his team’s effort, head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters, “We got pushed around, and the end result was what it was.”

When asked about any positives to take from the game, Gentry quipped, “I wasn’t pleased with anything we did. There were no bright spots and no moral victories.”

Those words pretty much sum up the Suns’ takeaway from this game. Not a great way to start out a four games in five nights stretch.

The Suns will play at home against the Charlotte Bobcats tomorrow night. Perhaps chewing on the worst team in the NBA will get the taste from this wretched loss out of the team’s mouth.

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