Preview: Phoenix Suns (8-13) at Houston Rockets (12-10)

Houston Rockets 99, Phoenix Suns 81

Suns

Rockets

Like the Phoenix Suns, the Houston Rockets don’t get much notoriety. They lack a great deal of star power and aren’t on a hot streak. Even when they are, it’s not by way of Lob City-esque passing or anything that can be called spectacular.

But Kevin Martin’s awkward jump shot and Luis Scola’s rugged inside game are dangerous, and to follow up a seven-game winning streak, the Rockets are 2-3 in their past five games. Approaching a six-game road trip, they’d love to get a home victory as a momentum-swinging send-off against the Suns tonight.

The latest struggles for Houston have been due to defensive lapses. Against San Antonio on Wednesday, the Rockets made strides in making the right fixes, but it’ll still be a work in progess against Phoenix.

“You’re not going to shore up everything,” point guard Kyle Lowry told The Associated Press. “You can fix a few things, tweak a few things, get everything back to where you want it to be. But you’re not going to shore them all up, because every team is different offensively, so you may have to make adjustments all the time.”

It’s the same story for the Suns, who happened to find their way to enough defensive stops to hold the New Orleans Hornets to 16 fourth-quarter points in the last game. The Suns also scored 30 or more point in three quarters against the Hornets, and while the opponent may have something to do with the best offensive game of the season for Phoenix, it was a positive sign that Steve Nash and company aren’t about to roll over.

Nash, of course, led the team with 30 points and 10 assists as he broke the Suns’ all-time assists mark. More importantly, he received help across the board. Marcin Gortat scored 23 while heading to the foul stripe 14 times, Channing Frye and Jared Dudley both contributed double-digit scoring evenings, and the bench added 34 in what turned into a blowout late.

Of course, the 12-10 Rockets aren’t the 4-18 Hornets.

Star power isn’t a good way to describe Houston, but Martin is averaging 21 points this season while averaging 29.2 points in his last six games. Scola will be a bothersome load in the paint, and point guard Kyle Lowry is quietly having a season worthy of Most Improved Player mention, averaging 14.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game.

Three keys for Phoenix

Go with the flair. After the New Orleans game, I became slightly disturbed by +/- metrics. Sebastian Telfair had a team-worst -14 +/- and Josh Childress’ own was a so-so +5. While Nash’s +29 led the Suns for good reason, Phoenix looked inspired and halfway decent with Telfair and Childress acting as energy-inducing subs. Maybe they’re not efficient players all the time, but the two gave the Suns an attitude about them that we’ve rarely seen this season, and it’d be a good idea for head coach Alvin Gentry to keep giving them minutes.

Stay on Martin’s belt buckle. While the Rockets’ shooting guard has a shifty manner of getting off shots, there’s no doubt he has an odd and low release point. If Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Josh Childress can chase him well around screens, making Martin shoot on the move will go a long, long way. If he starts finding himself taking shots with his feet firmly set, the Suns could be in for a long night.

Turn Lowry into a scorer. While he is indeed having a stellar season, Lowry hasn’t been the most efficient of scorers. His true shooting percentage of 52.4 is the worst of his six-year career, and maybe Phoenix could live by playing for the pass rather than worrying about the Rockets’ point guard making them pay with jump shots. He’s shooting an ugly 32.4 percent in the past 10 games.

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