Preview: Phoenix Suns (9-9) at Houston Rockets (13-6)



Time: 6 p.m. MST


On their way to a  9-9 record, the Phoenix Suns have just about run the gamut: wins over good teams, routs of bad teams, come-from-behind victories, heartbreaking last-second losses and a few performances that are better left unmentioned.

What Phoenix doesn’t have, however, is a tally in the left-hand column of the standings on the second night of a back-to-back. In fact, the Suns are 0-4 in such contests, losing by an average margin of 8.3 points per game.

To make matters worse, Jeff Hornacek’s squad is coming off its worst loss of the season, a 19-point drubbing in Memphis that saw the Grizzlies outscore the Suns by 27 in the second half despite the absence of their two best interior players.

The challenge won’t get easier for the Suns Wednesday night, as they travel to Houston to face one of the deepest  teams top-to-bottom in the Western Conference.

Do the Suns win the third quarter?

In seven of their nine losses — including the last five in row — the Suns have failed to win the third quarter. This deficiency was put on full display Tuesday night, when Memphis erased an eight-point halftime deficit with a 13-5 run in the first 3:54 of the third frame. By the time the quarter was over, the Suns were the team trailing by eight and never got within six the rest of the night.

Maybe the long intermission kills any semblance of momentum or simply the Suns are not making the same type of adjustments their opponents are, but against a Rockets’ lineup that features two All-Stars and a terrific supporting cast, any extended lapse in the third quarter could prove to be the difference yet again.

On most nights the Suns are not the more talented team on the court, so banking on a fourth-quarter rally time and time again seems like an exercise in futility.

How does Bledsoe bounce back from Tuesday’s abysmal performance?

For the first time since Nov. 15, Eric Bledsoe was in the starting lineup Tuesday night in Memphis. The move, however, didn’t exactly pay big dividends. The first-year Sun scored a season-low nine points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field and never seemed to really have that explosive first step at either end of the floor.

The Suns wanted to ease Bledsoe back into the lineup after missing six games with a left shin contusion, but that strategy lasted all of two games. While its hard to know whether the injury is still a lingering issue, Bledsoe will certainly have his hands full at the Toyota Center, whether it’s chasing down Patrick Beverley or trying to contain James Harden from the perimeter or in the paint.

Goran Dragic would appear to be the better matchup against Harden, who in 14 career games against Phoenix is averaging 19.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

But, we’ll have to wait and see how Wednesday’s contest plays out.

Over/under 20 points and 15 rebounds for Dwight Howard?

While he might not be one of the greatest of all-time, in this day in age where quality centers are not at a premium, Dwight Howard is one of, if not the most dominant player at his position.

When healthy, as he appears to be in 2013-14, he’s a walking double-double machine and one of the league’s elite interior defenders.

During his first year in Houston, Howard (16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game) has been exactly what the Rockets had hoped he’d be. Although his scoring is down a bit (lowest since 2005-06), the ninth-year pro has provided the ideal compliment to shooting guard James Harden.

He also will seemingly cause problems for Phoenix Wednesday night, as size and strength are the not exactly the traits used to describe its front court. Though no real fault of their own, Miles Plumlee (listed at 6-foot-11), Channing Frye (listed at 6-foot-11) and Markieff Morris (listed at 6-foot-10) have gotten pushed around quite a bit against the likes of Brook Lopez, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez.

Tuesday that trend continued, as Memphis’ Ed Davis, Kosta Koufus and Jon Leuer combined for 58 points and 33 rebounds in place of All-Stars Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. So while 20 and 15 might be slightly above Howard’s season averages, recent history would suggest those numbers might go up when he faces the Suns’ front line.





  • Luka

    Trade Markieff, trade Frye, trade Bledsoe, trade Babby, trade Sarver.

    That is all.

  • EBJM

    Well with McHale going to a straight Howard/Asik center rotation, Howard’s stats do not mean much. He selfishly kicks the ball out to his shooters and the Rockets love to rain three-pointers on their opposition.

    Their isn’t any drop-off when Asik spells Howard. Asik is listed at 7′-0″ but seems to tower over players and Rocket announcers have called him 7′-3″. Either way whoever gets matched against Howard or Asik are in for a long night.

    The Suns get a HUGE break with Parsons sitting out as they do not have an answer for him and he has been playing some fantastic ball.

    Of course James Harden just hit 37 against the Jazz.
    With Parsons out Omri Casspi will start and at 6′-9″ will get his shots off against Tucker.

    Terrence Jones should just kill Frye and the only position the Suns have an advantage is at PG.

    Dragic will have the unique opportunity to go against Aaron Brooks, the player he was swapped for and now both have returned to their old teams.

    Why did Blanks make that trade at the expense of a Suns 1st rd pick that turned into PF Nikola Miroti?.

  • Solarion

    Trade Bledsoe to the BULLS.

  • hawki

    Houston…..we have a problem

  • hawki

    Houston….we have a problem

  • Dave:f32

    From (Rockets league-run website):

    Phoenix concedes the third most shots per game in the restricted area, fouls often and doesn’t have much in the way of rim protection save for the presence of Miles Plumlee – all things that should be music to James Harden’s ears.

    - On the other end of the floor, beware the pairing of Goran Dragic and Channing Frye. Rockets fans likely need no reminder of Dragic’s abilities; he’s terrific in transition, destructive via the pick-and-roll and has been nothing short of essential to the Suns’ offensive attack this season. When he’s on the floor, Phoenix is scoring at a rate that would lead the entire league (111 points per 100 possessions). When he sits, the Suns’ offense dims to a dismal bottom-five outfit.

  • Dave:f32

    - One can’t discuss the Suns without mentioning the dynamic Eric Bledsoe. Phoenix’s fourth-year guard is putting up big numbers and leading the team in PER which is why it’s so surprising to see that his club has actually performed better with him off the court rather than on it to date. The Suns’ net rating is -5.8 when Bledsoe is on the floor and +7.3 when he sits so far – a rather profound difference that figures to even out as the sample size increases, yet one that is still something worth monitoring in the meantime. Even when Bledsoe is paired with Dragic, the numbers have been more blah than boffo: Phoenix’s net rating is -4.4 during the 176 minutes its starting backcourt has logged together this season.

  • Dave:f32

    Suns missed the boat on signing Malcolm Thomas PF. Spurs just picked him up.

  • Dave:f32

    I think his stats for 2 d,-league games was 33pts,15rbs

    Bulls fans said he was a real baller.

  • Azbballfan

    Why would we trade Bledsoe to the Bulls?

    not unless we get Tony Snell, Loul Deng, and a 2014 1st rounder for that

    Deng is a expiring contract, who might want to resign here, snell could become a good player, and hey look another 1st rounder for the war chest!

    im not sure that trade would work in the trade machine

    we might have to include Channing Frye

  • Solarion

    The BULLS still think they have a shot, the East is weeeeeeaaak. Plus I can’t see Bledsoe staying, you can’t have two PGs peacefully co-exist. I just want picks.

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  • Scott

    @Dave -

    Malcolm Thomas was a guy I had on my list for the Suns to draft in the 2nd round a few years back. Then, when he went undrafted, I wanted the Suns to invite him to SL. But … BLANKS. I guess that pretty much explains it.

    Thomas is a bit short and light for PF, but he has 7′ 2″ wingspan. He’s athletic and a defender. With his size and weight, he can play SF as well.

    If he doesn’t stick in SA, it should at least be a growth experience for him. He’s only 25, so if he gets free the Suns can always give him a call.

  • Dave:f32

    Thanks for sharing, Scott. Peace out, brother.)