Preview: Phoenix Suns (29-19) at Houston Rockets (32-17)

Time: 6:00 pm


Some nights the shots just don’t fall. That was the story for the Phoenix Suns in last night’s home loss to the Bulls. Now the Suns hit the road to take on the Houston Rockets, the team sitting directly above them in the Western Conference standings.

Despite the closeness of their records (the Suns are only 2.5 games back) the Rockets will have two representatives at next week’s All Star Game while Phoenix has, for the moment, been shut out. There is still a chance Goran Dragic could snag a spot if Kobe Bryant and/or Chris Paul relinquish their spots due to injury. Popular opinion seems to believe the leading candidate for an injury replacement selection is the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis. Most All Star games have a representative from the home town team, and Davis has more than earned consideration in his sophomore season. But if both LA guards cannot make the game, the League will almost assuredly pick another point guard, and Dragic’s name is right at the top of that list.

Dragic followed up his Western Conference Player of the Week performance with 24 points on 60% shooting last night. His recent hot streak has brought his per game scoring average above 20 points, moving him to 16th in the NBA in scoring (He is also 17th in the league in assists.) Other than the Thunder and Kevin Durant, there is no playoff contender more reliant on one player for their success than the Suns are on Dragic.

The Dragon and Co. will face off against a Rockets’ squad that has won six of their last eight games and is coming off three days rest. The Rockets are fueled by their two big money stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard, but it’s been their bench that’s spurred their recent hot streak. Jeremy Lin had a triple-double off the bench in Saturday’s win over Cleveland. Chandler Parsons has topped 25 points in three of Houston’s last seven games, including a 10-of-14 performance from downtown in a loss to Memphis on January 24th. The Suns will definitely have their hands full defensively with this high-scoring squad. For more analysis on this game, let’s ask three big questions.

Can the Suns bottle up the Beard?

Last time out, the Suns bested the Rockets thanks in no small part to a very forgettable performance by James Harden. The former ArizonaState star was just 3-of-17 from the field and committed five turnovers as Houston’s high-powered offense managed just 88 points. P.J. Tucker did a phenomenal job keeping Harden in front of him and forcing him to be a jump shooter. Harden has missed a few games recently due to injury, but in Houston’s game on Saturday, he dropped 28 points on 17 shots. He seems to be no worse for the wear. Tucker will surely have his work cut out for him.

Will the Suns get anything out of Miles Plumlee?

Dwight Howard may not be everything he once was, but he is still a premiere center in the League and a beast on the boards and in the paint. Facing off against D12 will be Miles Plumlee, who has been struggling mightily over the last month. In January, Plumlee’s FG%, points per game, rebounding, and blocks all fell off. Adding insult to injury, the Suns have been exploring a deal to acquire Pau Gasol, a move that would significantly alter Plumlee’s role with the team. Miles’ recent shortcomings may be regression from his surprising start or simply exhaustion from his first full season as a starter. Whatever the reason, he could certainly turn things around with a big showing against Howard. To impress, Plumlee has to be patient in the post and not rush his shots to avoid getting blocked. Defensively, he must stay out of foul trouble and hold his position on the boards, not letting Howard push him underneath the hoop.

Can the Morris twins shift the balance?

The biggest advantage the Suns have over the Rockets is depth. Phoenix’s bench is far more productive that Houston’s, and the Morris’s are a big part of that. Markieff is getting legitimate consideration for the Sixth Man of the Year award, though his frequent technicals are not helping his case. Marcus is playing against his former team in Houston. There’s plenty in this matchup to motivate the brothers. The Suns need efficient and productive nights from both if they hope to keep pace with the Rockets on the second night of a back-to-back.

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