Preview: Houston Rockets (15-11) at Phoenix Suns (11-14)

Houston Rockets 96, Phoenix Suns 89



The Phoenix Suns found confidence in most everything spanning their current three-game winning streak. Shots are falling thanks to strong cohesiveness in ball movement, the defense has been consistent, and Alvin Gentry has found a rotation that he just might stick to.

Coincidentally, that three-game winning streak was spurred by the worst loss of the season, a 99-81 beatdown at the hands of the Houston Rockets, who Phoenix will again face tonight in US Airways Center.

If the Suns pull off a victory against the Rockets, who are coming off their “best win of the season”, well, they might be on to a surprise resurgence this season.

One of the more important turnarounds for Phoenix — aside from a newfound confidence in shooting the ball — has been the bench effort. Behind the tenacity of players like Sebastian Telfair and Josh Childress, the Suns’ second unit has kept leads in first halves of late, but they’ve also blown them in the second halves. That’s a no-no against Houston.

The Rockets’ bench depth might make it one of the better second units in the NBA. Last night, it outscored the starters 66-37 in a victory over the Portland Trail Blazers; all of the Rockets’ starters ended the game with a minus in the +/- count while all of the bench players finished in the positives.

Chase Budinger led the team with 22 points, and Courtney Lee, Goran Dragic along with Patrick Patterson scored in double-digits for Kevin McHale’s bench unit. That same foursome also scored in double-digits against the Suns in the two squads’ last meeting, a game that was labeled the worst performance of the year for Phoenix.

This second game against the Rockets could be Phoenix’s will to succeed coming full circle after that embarrassing defeat.

Of course, you never know if or when the Suns could revert back to the team we saw just four games ago. Three keys for Phoenix

Attack the point. Houston could be without starting point guard Kyle Lowry, who hyperextended his elbow in last night’s game. As we saw with Michael Redd’s return to Milwaukee, there’s the risk Dragic could get nostalgic in Lowry’s place and cause his old team some trouble. But no matter who starts, Steve Nash will be the first line of defense in making sure nothing comes easy for his point guard counterpart. That’s huge against a team that has very few players who can create shots for themselves.

Keep it Redd-hot. Michael Redd might not ever be what he once was, but he’s already shown that he’s not washed up. His ability to take it to the basket hasn’t waned to a great deal and that’s great, but Gentry could make the bench unit mighty tough if he keeps running curl screens for the sweet-shooting veteran. Redd’s crisp use of screens along with his quick release make him dangerous, and he was 3-for-4 in the Milwaukee games coming off those screens on the top right of the painted area.

Attack the interior. The Rockets quietly have one of the most physical group of big men in the game. They have the length of Samuel Dalembert and Jordan Hill along with the rugged Luis Scola and Patterson. The Suns can’t be afraid to attack the frontline. It’s imperative they either get the Rockets in foul trouble, or have Nash penetrate and kick to Marcin Gortat for short jumpers or Channing Frye for threes. Keeping the Rockets’ bigs uncomfortable by stretching the floor, meanwhile worrying about Nash’s penetration, will open up shots for the Suns.

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