Preview: Houston Rockets (37-18) vs. Phoenix Suns (33-21)


Time: 7 p.m. MST

TV: ESPN / FSA

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When the Phoenix Suns throttled the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, they looked like a playoff team. They contested most every shot and made nothing easy for a injury-limited Spurs team. On offense, Phoenix dictated the tempo.

On Sunday, it won’t be that easy against a Houston Rockets squad that, like the Suns, can hit contested shots and break down the best defense with a spaced floor and ability to freestyle on broken offensive possessions.

Phoenix saw that first-hand on Feb. 5. Though a lot of it had to do with the Suns’ lackluster defensive efforts, the Rockets certainly displayed their versatility. Forwards Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons each scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and that pretty much said it all once Dwight Howard and James Harden got theirs as the Suns fell 122-108.

Jeff Hornacek’s team certainly has shown that matchups have a lot to do with success. The Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers are favorable matchups, as are a broken and aging Spurs team.

The Rockets are a different animal, unlike any other team. They are coming off a loss that ended an eight-game winning streak.

Here are three things to keep an eye on when the Suns aim for their fourth-straight victory.

Will Phoenix avoid trading buckets?

Hornacek’s emphasis since the All-Star break has been stringing together strong possessions. In the first two games since the break, Phoenix would drill a couple threes to build a lead but then forget about transition defense. The win against San Antonio showed how deadly the Suns are when they string together defensive possessions and then run the ball down the retreating opponents’ throats.

After all, Phoenix can’t trade buckets with Houston. Dwight Howard will likely get his and in his last 10 games is averaging 21.4 points and 13.1 rebounds. James Harden is a hard stop if he’s able to play through a hyperextended elbow (he was practicing with Houston on Saturday). Even if P.J. Tucker is in his jersey, he’s going to find ways to put up points — though watch that matchup because of the touchy relationship and respective flopping abilities.

The Suns need stops. Easier said than done. They’ll probably allow Harden and Howard get theirs, as Hornacek doesn’t like to double. But they can’t allow Jones and Parsons to get hot and score with efficiency.

Can Frye and Green get going early?

Frye and Green weren’t clicking in the last meeting with the Rockets, and they never seemed to break out of a funk. The Suns launched 30 threes and made just eight. It would be an interesting site to see Frye or Markieff Morris manning the center spot against Houston’s bench to get them going, because Omer Asik is certainly less of a threat to take advantage of the mismatch than Howard.

What’s the free throw differential?

It’s one of those easier-said-than-done things, but the Suns must be willing to drive against Howard. Not only will that risk his foul trouble but keep Phoenix in reach of Houston at the foul stripe. The Suns lost that battle of free throw attempts 42-21 in February, and though it’s hard not to foul Howard or Harden, it’s got to be a goal.

Harden and Howard shot 30 of those free throws earlier this month. The fouling also kept the Rockets from running away with it by building momentum, but 79 percent foul shooting — that’s with Howard going 12-for-18 — with 42 attempts is a lot of free points.

  • GoSuns

    Harden might be out

  • Woodrow

    Flopping abilities…haha..

    We tried the Hack-A-Howard last time to no avail, which is partially why there’s such a disparity in his FT attempts. It’ll be interesting to see if Miles can stay out of foul trouble, and keep Dwight from the always lethal &1′s.
    Dragon’s gonna break out of his (mini)slump and drop 35.

  • EBJM

    Warriors thought the same thing Asik and in fifteen minutes he hit three shots, grabbed five boards and blocked a shot.

    Hornacek should start Markieff in Frye’s place though for better match-ups. Terrance Jones just destroyed Frye within the first two minutes in the last game.

    Three offensive rebounds, nine points and put two fouls on Frye and sent him to the bench. Markieff is better equipped to contain T-Jones. Frye is better-suited to draw Asik out of the lane with the second unit.

    Woodrow, Howard shoots 54% FTs on the year. So what you are saying is that the only free-throws he hits are the “and ones”?

    I love when the Suns play the Rockets, televised!

  • Scott

    It seems to me the Suns have the advantage if they play Frye against Howard and either Morris brother at PF … provided Frye is hitting his shots.

  • Woodrow

    Nah just saying that the Hack-A-Howard backfired, could’ve easily gone the other way. Hopefully we keep ourselves close enough to avoid needing to try it again.

  • EBJM

    Well, yeah Scott, that would work out great also. My concern is getting Markieff on T-Jones at the beginning of the game.

  • EBJM

    Here is just a random thought:

    One of the GREATEST centers of all time with his thought on the hook-shot: According to Hakeem Olajuwon, it is a “necessary shot that every center should have”, because of the fact that it is very difficult to block.

  • EBJM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_a6RjR_AHY&list=FLN6snpINYCJXufcVk5xVB5w

    The two greatest skilled centers in the history of the game. Both around 7′-2″ with Wilt at 275# and Abdul- Jabbar around #225. This is when I learned to play ball. Centers had all-around skills.

  • EBJM

    My bad, wrong clip. But the one I was trying to post was an awesome eight minutes of Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar going head to head.

  • Joe Garrett

    When I was a kid I got to see Wilt vs Kareem at the Fabulous Forum, the house that Jack built that Jerry bought. Was the greatest battle I’ve ever seen.

  • Sweggin

    I’m sorry but am I the only one who can’t stand it when Ann Meyers Dreysdale commentates? Eddie Johnson and Steve Albert go perfect together

  • EBJM

    OMG! Did I not tell Hornacek to put Markieff on T-Jones at the start of the game?

    Frye is just standing there watching as T-Jones blows by him THREE times already.

  • EBJM

    T-Jones get another offensive rebound.

    Frye misses a gimme at the rim.

    Frye is late switching on Chandler and gets called for goal-tending.

    PLEASE bench him already .

  • EBJM

    Sweggin I’m lucky, I get Matt Bullard and Bill Worrell! I can’t stand Eddie Johnson!

  • EBJM

    My God! Frye misses a three, blows a one-foot hook shot at the rim. AT THE RIM!

  • EBJM

    Bad pass by Frye! turn-over!

    T-Jones leads the Rockets to a ten point lead.

  • EBJM

    Are you kidding me? Frye leaves Howard open under the basket?

    Come-on already!

    Frye misses another shot!

    I’d rather watch Slava!

  • EBJM

    Frye picks up Chandler at the top of the arc and then instantly throws Howard a lob for a dunk.

    Howard kills the Suns then Asik comes in and instantly grabs an offensive rebound!.

    Suns need a post player BADLY!

    Suns getting blown away by 15 in the 1st quarter and Frye hasn’t come off the court yet.

  • EBJM

    Asik and one over Plumlee.

  • EBJM

    Morris to Morris as the Suns make a run with Frye on the bench!

    Damn, Hornacek, did you have to wait until they were down by 18?

  • EBJM

    The MORRI! Bill Worrell calls the Suns team with the Morris brothers on the floor the Suns best team.

    I said the same thing last week.

  • EBJM

    Dragic and the Morris twins bring Phoenix all the way back!

  • EBJM

    Dragic has surpassed Nash! That kid is deadly!

  • EBJM

    Howard hook shot over Frye.

    Frye misses a three.

    Chandler dunks over Frye.

  • EBJM

    Frye to the bench finally!

  • EBJM

    Frye misses a jumper and then his man T-Jones flies by him for a lay-up.

    BENCH FRYE!

  • EBJM

    T-Jones over Frye again!

  • EBJM

    Foul by Frye.

  • EBJM

    Frye posts up and travels!

  • EBJM

    If Plumlee had a shot he would be awesome!

  • EBJM

    WTF? Markieff for Plumlee? Should have been Frye to the bench. Plumlee was balling!

  • EBJM

    Howard offensive rebound and put-back over Frye!

  • EBJM

    Frye clanks another three-pointer off the back of the rim!

  • EBJM

    Frye clanks another shot!

  • EBJM

    Markieff is a STUD!

  • EBJM

    46 seconds and a two-point lead and Frye is 2-11.

  • EBJM

    Channing Frye loses the game for Phoenix.

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  • http://cdn0.sbnation.com/assets/3506427/heyspike.gif Suns Fan in Portland

    I’m glad people are finally giving ‘kieff some credit. There was so much vicious Markieff bashing around here in the past, it really bummed me out. Markieff is a stud… It was nice to hear them give him some 6th man love on ESPN. That’s not aimed at you EBJM, I don’t know where you’ve stood on the ‘kieff situation in the past, and in general I usually find myself in agreement with your posts, but I remember some people around here talking a lot of smack about him and it always kinda bugged me…

  • http://cdn0.sbnation.com/assets/3506427/heyspike.gif Suns Fan in Portland

    Oh ya, and what a horrendously crappy missed call on Slight Coward walking all the way to the basket and not getting a lane violation… meh.

  • EBJM

    Portland, Markieff drives me crazy but in games like last night, he has the size, strength and athleticism to stay with guys like T-Jones.