Phoenix Suns 119, Houston Rockets 112 – Releasing the frustration


PHOENIX – For once, it was only about basketball.

Goran Dragic was relaxed in the locker room before a meeting against his former team, the Houston Rockets. He was already talking about his offseason where he’ll represent his Slovenian national team in Europe, and considering the Suns have already conducted some exit interviews, it was clear that the team is already looking ahead to the summer.

For once, it felt like the weight of a lost season wasn’t upon them.

Dragic mused that he’d wish it was that simple for the whole season, but as you might’ve guessed, Phoenix had spent more time having team meetings than heading home satisfied after wins.

So for just the 25th time this season, the Suns went home with smiles on their faces.

In their final home contest, four of the Suns starters scored 20 or more points in a 119-112 Monday night win against the Rockets. Dragic torched his former squad for 21 points and 14 assists. Nine assists came in the first quarter, and nine points came in the fourth after the point guard returned after losing 10 minutes of the third quarter to get three stitches above his left eye.

“We owe that to the fans,” Dragic said in the lively locker room. “Everybody was involved, everybody was making shots. (On) defense we were talking, we were playing well. If we would play like this earlier, for sure we’d be close to the playoffs.”

The Suns used the fast-paced Rockets break against them, getting stops and making hard pushes the other way. Luis Scola scored 26 total and 21 in the first half. He also grabbed 15 rebounds. Markieff Morris played his best game yet as a Sun, scoring 20 but doing his damage with five steals, six blocks and seven rebounds. Meanwhile, P.J. Tucker scored a career-high 24 – mostly in the paint – and held James Harden to a frustrating 5-for-18 shooting performance.

“It’s just trying to contain Harden and Parsons when they push the ball. We really just wanted to get back, get a stop and then go,” Tucker said despite being heckled about his white dress pants by Jermaine O’Neal, a sign that the Suns had already released the tensions of frustration.

“Jermaine O’Neal wouldn’t know anything about that,” Tucker shot back.

Phoenix held the Rockets without a field goal in the final 4:13 of the first quarter and took a 39-28 lead to the quarter break. After Harden went for 12 points in the opening frame, the second quarter called for Lin to attack Kendall Marshall. The Rockets point guard went for 13 in the second quarter and finished with 20, but the Suns always had an answer – they were loose, and they were effective.

The Suns led 67-61 at the half.

Two minutes into the third quarter, a charge taken by Dragic on Harden led to a cut above the Suns point guard’s left eye that warranted three-stitches. Marshall replaced him, and to the rookie’s credit, Phoenix grew its lead from three to a 90-83 advantage heading to the fourth quarter.

Dragic returned for the final quarter as a shooting guard, playing in a smallball lineup with Marshall, Tucker, Dudley and a mix of Wes Johnson and Morris down the stretch. The move shadowed the Rockets’ lineup that, essentially, placed Carlos Delfino and Chandler Parsons in the paint. Those two played with Lin, Harden and Patrick Beverley.

Houston, with Harden sitting on the bench, pulled within two points with six minutes left in the game, but a 6-0 Suns run forced Kevin McHale’s hand. He pulled Harden off the bench, but Phoenix had enough room to win a foul-shooting game down the stretch.

Marshall played well alongside Dragic. He too had one of his five-best games of the year, attacking during the fourth quarter when switches called for it.

“We recognized the switch, I yelled for them to open the floor up and wanted to see him attack,” Hunter said. “He made two great decisions, attacking the rim and pulling up for a short jumper.”

Marshall finished with eight points and four assists off the bench.

For once, P.J. Tucker wasn’t questioning why the Suns weren’t playing hard. They earned a decent enough standing ovation from not too shabby a crowd. It was as if the Suns fans still on the bandwagon felt the pain of a poorly-constructed roster. Even they were looking to next season.

“Definitely feels good to get one here,” Tucker said afterward.

O’Neal stood behind Tucker during interviews, redressing himself after sitting out a game for no reason given on the injury report. The Suns aren’t pushing a banged-up veteran to play in a meaningless game. Their offseason has already started.

Yet for one rare moment, the Suns could laugh.

“I ain’t seen no white pants since Miami Vice,” O’Neal told Tucker.

  • foreveris2long

    Dragic has really played like an allstar since the allstar break. Could you imagine his effectiveness if he had a high flyer on the wing and an athletic low post player? Anyway it was good to see the guys play well.

    I think Wes Johnson will get at least $4m/yr offer in free agency as there really are not that many pure shooters in the league. He is an athletic pure shooter who is young and an above average defender.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Charlotte beat the Knicks last night to tie Orlando for worst record in league with one game remaining.
    Knicks played 2 cheerleaders, the team mascot, the waterboy & Spike Lee at pg.

    and who does Charlotte play to end the season ? None other than the Cavs, who can tie the Suns with a win over the Bobcats….assuming the Suns lose to Denver to end the season.

  • SHAZAM

    go suns…go home

  • DBreezy

    Hawki,

    I’m not sure we could field enough players from the posters left around here after this season to play what the Knicks put out there!

  • Azbballfan

    I didnt watch this game because i was busy doing my taxes, but i saw the boxscore

    WOW markieff morris 20 points 8 boards 5 steals 6 blocks?

    thats the kind of performance we needed from him all season

    in April he is doing better, getting about 12 points and 7.5 boards a game

    Dragic played great, again

    This is a lost season but atleast we had some good games

    Jazz won last night as well, so we need a Lakers collapse on the last day of the season and a Jazz road win to keep that lotto pick

    Scola had 26 and 15 boards

    if nothing else Suns can point to this game when they are shopping the morris twins and Scola this summer

    looks like Nerlens Noel is entering the draft

    i would love the Lakers to miss the playoffs, but i cant get too upset about it if they get in

    we are still going to have 2 1st rounders and a 2nd rounder in this draft, maybe with trades (hello OKC!)

    hey here is an idea

    Marcin Gortat to Dallas for their lotto pick

    Mark Cuban has said he wants a quick rebuild

    getting an upgrade at Center and an expiring deal for a pick he isnt going to use seems like a good idea to me

    we will probably get our butts handed to us in Denver

    even when people are injured other players step up for that team, Javale McGee had 10 points 17 boards and 3 blocks in only 25 minutes last night

  • john

    The more I have watched Dragic since the all star break, the more I believe that he can be the second-best player on a good team, and he can be the third-best player on a great team.

    If the Suns can make the right personnel decisions from now to the beginning of the 2014-15 season, I believe the Suns could be right back where they belong after one more bad season.

    Here’s to hoping Lance Blanks has grown a brain in the past couple of months.

  • Ty-Sun

    We’ve all been talking about the upcoming draft, draft prospects and mock drafts. I found this and it’s actually a humorous mock draft/prospect scouting article. And if anyone can use a few laughs, it’s us Suns fans.

    http://www.sbnation.com/2013/4/16/4229998/nba-mock-draft-2013-hype-nerlens-noel-ben-mclemore

    My favorite line is about Shabazz Muhammad… “This kid could score in a 13th century nunnery.”

  • Scott

    I guess the Spurs are planning on going fishing early. They just picked up McGrady … who is notable for never making it out of the first round in his career.

    El Contusion, meet El Maldicion.

  • Forever is2long

    Scott, They could be fishing soon as they looked terrible against the Lakers Sunday. Duncan was the only one who looked good.

  • DBreezy

    Anybody know what time today the early entry deadline is? As it stands right now, a weak draft is looking even weaker with who’s not in right now.

  • Scott

    Maybe the Suns can buy picks with cash this year. :)

  • Scott

    If I have it right, the official date to declare by is April 28.

    However, if you wanted to test the waters (see how you were received by GMs and then get out), you needed to have pulled out by today.

    Who has NOT officially declared yet?

    Marcus Smart
    Kelly Olynyk
    Isaiah Austin
    James McAdoo
    Glenn Robinson III
    Gary Harris
    Shane Larkin
    Russ Smith
    Adreian Payne
    Doug McDermott
    LeBryan Nash
    Tim Hardaway Jr
    Andre Roberson

    … and probably a few more whose names I didn’t put down because I didn’t recognize them.

  • Scott

    Okay, McAdoo is officially returning to college.

    Not sure about the rest.

  • Scott

    Smart is likely returning to college. He’s got a presser in the student union tomorrow.

  • foreveris2long

    Scott, I am pretty sure the players have longer than today to test the waters as long as they do not hire an agent and otherwise stay NCAA compliant. I will try and find the exact date.

  • foreveris2long

    Ok Scott it is kind of confusing but I think I understand the rules. Apparently there are 2 rules regarding the draft, an NCAA rule and an NBA rule. The NCAA rule which apparently is attempting to protect colleges recruiting by establishing today April 16 as the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw their name if they previously threw it in the NBA draft tank. However the “on the fence” college underclassmen will wait until after today to throw their name in the NBA tank without hiring an agent, which will give them until April 28 (NBA rule)to withdraw their name. I suspect guys like Glen Robinson, Payne and a host of others will be throwing their names in after today so they will not be subject to the NCAA rule.

    I was pleased to learn J. Franklin has declared he is going to the NBA.

  • Scott

    Speaking of Franklin, DX posted their update scouting report on him today.

    http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Jamaal-Franklin-17500/

  • Scott

    If it should happen that Smart, Olynyk, and Austin do not declare, Dieng and Goodwin theoretically jump up into the tail end of the lottery.

    Go Houston! Go Utah! :)

  • DBreezy

    I can’t wait for the 2014 draft……..

  • bill.thomas

    @Scott, I can hardly wait for McGrady to surprise you. Anyway, they had to do something with the loss of both Diaw and Jackson.

    I wonder if they can beat the Lakers in Round 1.

  • Elviro (Italy)

    I already … I’m dedicating the next choices ….
    I’m watching a little video on you tube …
    I must say that some of the commentators on this blog, I had reported Oladipo …
    Well I must say that I was impressed: it can do everything! athletic, good defender, shooter ….. it seems to me a good chance over Noel McLemore and that probably will not be our choices …
    Who else would you recommend to see?

  • Elviro (Italy)

    Ps: we hope to have the same luck in choosing who had the Phoenix Mercury ………

    …. or at most, if wrong choice, we call the Griner to play with the Suns …

  • Forever is2long

    Scott, Thanks for the update on J. Franklin. I love his game.

  • DBreezy

    I see the folks over at SI.com love the Suns.

    “Phoenix Suns — Final grade: F | Record: 24-55, No. 15 in the West

    Midseason grade: F | Midseason record: 14-28, No. 14 in the West

    This is the bottom of the barrel, Charlotte included. The Suns signed Michael Beasley to a lucrative multiyear deal (inexcusable); parted ways with Alvin Gentry after saying they would retain him for the season (confusing); sloppily promoted Lindsey Hunter (strange); lost members of their coaching staff who felt Hunter’s promotion hadn’t been earned (embarrassing); lost the most games in the West (sad); patched together a roster lacking in cohesiveness and logic (brutal); and didn’t play first-round pick Kendall Marshall real minutes until February (illogical).

    At least they reunited the Morris twins and gave president Lon Babby an extension, right? I’m already covering my eyes in fear contemplating how they will use their cap space this summer. This rebuild could take awhile.”

  • DBreezy

    I don’t know why the link dropped out of my post above, but here it is.

    http://nba.si.com/2013/04/12/nba-regular-season-team-grades/

  • Scott

    @DBreezy -

    SI is just coolly reporting it as it is.

    If they were Suns fans, they probably would have added some expletives to the above. ;)

  • john

    While I don’t disagree with most of the points in that SI article, I strongly disagree with the first point.

    The Suns have been destroyed by local and national media for the Beasley signing, but I honestly have no idea why. It’s essentially a 2-year deal for the *AVERAGE* NBA salary. It’s not a “lucrative” deal in the slightest. The average NBA player makes about $6M. Michael Beasley makes about $6M. How is that lucrative? It might have been stupid to trust in a guy’s talent that had already had a few years and a couple of teams to prove his worth (and he failed pretty miserably in both places), but it’s not like putting OJ Mayo (another FA available at the same time with the potential talent to be a very good player) in Beasley’s place would have improved the roster all that much, if at all. I’m just completely failing to see how any of the other FA’s available last year would have been such a better idea at much less “lucrative” contracts…

    And I’m not ranting at you, DBreezy. I’m just ranting at the misperceptions of the media. Gambo is the biggest idiot in the Valley (who happens to have a sports show somehow), and he never ceases to bring up how terrible of a signing it was and how Beasley is the $18M man (which is somewhat deceiving, because it assumes all $18M is guaranteed, and it doesn’t mention the years). $6M/yr is drop-in-the-bucket type stuff. To take a small, manageable chance on a guy with all-star potential on a roster you know is lacking star power isn’t foolish. It might not work out in the end, but it’s certainly not a foolish move.

    He’ll be gone after next year anyways, so I’m glad I won’t have listen to anyone talk about it after that.

  • Scott

    Smart is now out.

  • Azbballfan

    Yep, so much for that dragic-smart backcourt

    with Smart out of the picture, my vote goes to victor oladipo or Mclemore for a backcourt tandem

    the weaker this draft becomes, the more likely teams are going to be willing to give us their draft picks for cash or somebody on the Suns

    if i was Lon Babby i would be calling Minnesota, Dallas and OKC

    teams that would rather have a solid player on their roster than a rookie they have to develop

    who takes Smarts position in the draft?

    btw i hope the Suns lose to Denver tonight and Cleveland wins

    last thing we need is to screw up draft positions on the last day in a week draft where we we need talent badly

  • DBreezy

    @John,

    Didn’t take it as a rant at me, and I pretty much agree on Beasley. My biggest beef with the Beasley signing isn’t the money, but that it could have been done in far shrewder manner imo. I think they could have moved R.Lo in a deal for Beasley in 2011 as neither player had a long term future with their clubs. Beas could have been a one year trial with Nash and Hill, which would have probably been the best situation for them with him. That didn’t happen, but I’m fine with his contract as it can be stretched easily if the Suns need the cap space, which they won’t anytime soon.

  • DBreezy

    @azbballfan,

    I think the key will be how they have and will approach the scouting process. In general the Sarver era (ie not just singling out Blanks/Babby) has been marked by less and less broad based scouting and more individualized focus on a select few prospects each year. Coro over the years in his blogs has done a nice job of noting individual scouts who’ve been let go by the team and their increased reliance on using things like group workouts or outsourced scouting services that report to multiple teams for certain things.

    To me the Suns tend to focus so heavily in on certain players each year that they aren’t really prepared when the draft morphs which it always does. Unexpected players declare or don’t declare, stocks rise and fall, and trades shake up the order and individual team needs. The Suns rarely seem ready for it though. The kinds of deals that you’re talking about are going to be very prospect dependent in a weak draft, ie you make the deal if prospect X is absolutely on the board at that pick, but fuggetaboutit if he isn’t. I’ll give Babby the benefit of the doubt that he’d be able to make a good deal, but if Blanks and Treloar haven’t done their homework Lon never makes it to the plate.

  • Scott

    Well, at least the Suns’ first round pick situation will be settled tonight.

    Go Houston! Go Utah!

  • DBreezy

    On Prancer and Dasher, On Donner and Blitzen…..