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Houston Rockets Game Day: Harden & Co. Bring Brooms to Face Suns

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets Game Day:

Record: 36-33,  Western: 1oth,                                      Record: 46-22,  Western: 3rd,

Pacific: 3rd, last ten 5-5                                                     Southwest: 2nd, last ten 6-4

Phoenix Suns vs Houston Rockets

Sat Mar 21, 8:00 PM EST – FSAZ, CSNH, RTSW

Toyota Center – Houston, TX

 Recent Matchups

Feb 11 HOU 127-118 PHO        Jan 24 HOU 113-111 PHO        Dec 7 PHO 95-100 HOU

 Oct 14 PHO 92-95 HOU          Feb 24 HOU 115-112 PHO

 Latest Results:

[table id=52 /]

Stats:

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Story lines:

  • The Rockets have won all three previous meetings this season with Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas still featured in the Phoenix line-up. With the Suns also without key players in the line-up can the injury decimated Rockets make it a clean sweep?
  • Phoenix remain a full game back of New Orleans and 3 games behind Oklahoma City in the race for the West’s eighth seed with only 13 games remaining (including tonight). Given every game for Phoenix is a must win look for Eric Bledsoe to be aggressive early.
  • With so many Rockets out of the line-up look for Patrick Beverley and Jason Terry to gut it out so McHale isn’t forced to utilize Nick Johnson, K.J. McDaniels and Pablo Prigioni more than necessary.
  • The area the Rockets have the most difficulty defensively is transition defense. With their best defender: Ariza slated to miss tonight’s game this could prove to be beneficial to the Suns.

Notable Stats:

  • In their first game December 6th Houston held Phoenix to 37% from the field and 25% from three while they shot 41% from the field and three
  • In the December 6th game Houston out rebounded the Suns 57 to 40
  • Neither team takes care of the ball particularly well, Houston ranks 29th with 16.7 turnovers per game and Phoenix rank 25th with 15.2 turnovers per game.
  • Phoenix have progressively dropped off in their 3-point prowess since the trade deadline.
  • In their last meeting February 10th, Harden was one assist shy of posting a triple double with 40 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists. The Rockets scored 127 points and posted 28 assists (10 more than Phoenix)

stats nba.com

Next: Limping To the Finish?

Mar 19, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) and Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) reach for a loose ball in the first half at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Walking Wounded:

Phoenix:

  • Marcus Thornton is doubtful with a sore toe
  • Alex Len is listed as doubtful given his sprained ankle
  • Brandon Knight is also listed as doubtful, also with a sprained ankle

Hornacek said Alex Len (ankle), Brandon Knight (ankle) and Marcus Thornton (toe) remain doubtful to play in #SunsAtRockets tonight.

— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) March 21, 2015

Houston: We knew Terrence Jones would be joining Howard and Papanikolaou, however rotoworld also lists starters Beverley and Ariza as questionable. Could this be the first time we see K.J. McDaniels get some real run?

  • Jason Terry is probable for tonight having missed a couple games due to a sore hamstring
  • Trevor Ariza did not participate in shoot around and is listed as questionable due to illness
  • Patrick Beverley has been listed as questionable the last 3-games due to a sore elbow and is once again questionable
  • Terrence Jones  will miss the game due to the partially collapsed lung he suffered Thursday night
  • Kostas Papanikolaou remains out (rather odd that Kostas hurt himself in a pregame warm-up and has subsequently missed 13 games)
  • Dwight Howard remains out but is nearing the date predicted for his return. Given he is practicing with the team we should be seeing him back in the line-up within the next 7 to 10 days.

Patrick Beverley (elbow) questionable for Sat http://t.co/9akrx2G2Px

— Rotoworld Basketball (@Rotoworld_BK) March 21, 2015

So Trevor Ariza (sick) missed shootaround, questionable for tonight. He’s scored 17+ in 3 straight. Only he & D-Mo have played in all 68 gms

— Adam Wexler (@awexler) March 21, 2015

Next: Reserve Reversal of Fortune?

Mar 11, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) dives for a loose ball in front of Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) and guard Corey Brewer (33) during the second quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Bench Mob:

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If there is one defining factor of the Suns’ season it’s the pre versus post All-Star bench production. Actually, these teams switched places. Phoenix’ ranked first in bench scoring prior to the break and are now 19th. Conversely, Houston was 25th and moved up to 17th (with continual improvement). Imagine where they would be if Howard was healthy!

A more shocking stat over the same period is the Sun’s defensive efficiency: pre was plus 4.9 and post is minus 11.3! That’s a 16.2 change for the worse.

Full bench stats at hoopsstats.com

Key Match-up:

There have been big changes on the Suns since their previous 3 meetings. No longer with Phoenix are Goran Dragic or Isaiah Thomas both of whom departed at the trade deadline. While the Suns were the Cinderella team last season this year they suffered from some injuries and more so from chemistry issues. Possibly the more accurate statement would be they decided to take their well performing 2-point guard line-up and add a third to the mix. That specific move to bring in Thomas seriously back fired by ticking off Dragic who demanded a trade. Making matters worse Suns Management in a desperate attempt to assuage Dragic (prior to his trade request) let it be known they were shopping Thomas which meant he also had to go.

Phoenix started the season with four point guards (Tyler Ennis was drafted) and have only one of those four remaining. I’m still trying to figure out what the Suns were thinking by adding 2 point guards to the team this last summer. Odd that a team who made their rise in the West barely missing last season’s playoffs hurt themselves by messing with what made them successful.

When the trade deadline wrapped up they had shipped out 3 of those 4 guards retaining only Eric Bledsoe and added Brandon Knight who was having a career season under coach Jason Kidd. He’s yet to showcase the same benefits in Phoenix and playing with a team not known for their defense has only served to showcase his own defensive short comings.

Last time out coach McHale had options in his line-up choices of going small or big. This time out injuries have decimated the Rockets leaving McHale little choice in who’ll play. Rather the key match-up today may come down to coaching as McHale’s decision on minute distribution may be the difference in the game. While many top teams are resting their stars it’s ironic James Harden has played in every game except the one he was suspended.

Markieff Morris had been posting career highs for the second year in a row, but he has experienced a drop off since the trades. The addition of Brandan Wright was made to shore up the Suns front line and bench depth, but as per the bench stats it hasn’t resulted in the effect Phoenix hoped for.

Ultimately the key will be how Harden performs. Coming off his career high in scoring there’s no reason not to believe he’ll be prepared to do what he’s done all season LEAD. Plus there’s the matter of how well he’s played against the Suns; his averages through 3-games are 29.3 points, 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists. And then of course there was this:

Next: Difference Makers

Mar 13, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) dribbles against the Atlanta Hawks during the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Leaders

Nuggets:

  • Eric Bledsoe 17.0 points per game
  • Alex Len 6.6 rebounds per game
  • Eric Bledsoe 6.0 assists per game
  • Alex Len 1.5 blocks per game
  • Eric Bledsoe 1.7 steals per game

Rockets:

  • James Harden 27.1 points per game
  • Dwight Howard 11 rebounds per game
  • James Harden 7.0 assists per game
  • Terrence Jones 1.6 blocks per game
  • James Harden 1.9 steals per game

Keys To Winning:

  • With the loss of Jones the Rockets lose size up front and this will put pressure on Donatas Motiejunas and Joey Dorsey specifically. Look for Josh Smith to get more minutes to help in this regard.
  • Rebounding will be a key area of concentration. Expect team rebounding with the guards trying to assist in this regard
  • Without Jones it’s likely the team will play more small ball, however that may play right into the Suns game plan given they prefer to run.
  • It will be interesting to see what Harden follows his career 50-point night up with. Prior to Thursday’s game he had been struggling from the field specifically in the final frames.
  • Pace: Rockets should look to dictate pace in order to not allow any big runs or flow to develop for the Suns
  • Defense of the three: with copious Suns capable of hitting the three with ease, Houston need to clamp down on the perimeter. This actually plays into the Rockets hands since their weakness will be up front. Will Phoenix look to utilize a different strategy given this fact and have their guards drive more or go to Morris/Wright in the paint?
  • Turnovers: the Rockets will need to take care of the ball so they don’t prompt the fast breaking Suns to charge out and take advantage of those turnovers.

Next: And the magic eight ball predicts...

Feb 10, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) shoots over Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) at US Airways Center. The Rockets won 127-118. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Pick:

The odds makers have Houston favored by 7.5 points. Given the fact up to six players may be sidelined by injury it definitely feels like a nod to Harden’s prowess by Vegas. If Ariza and Beverley don’t play my guess is the starting line-up would feature:

Where things would get really interesting is the reserves if Jason Terry can’t go and Beverley doesn’t dress as suggested. This leaves no true back up point guard so McHale would need to stagger Harden and Prigioni and utilize Josh Smith as a power forward with additional ball handling.

If Ariza doesn’t start tonight, Rockets will use 14th diff. starting 5. Opening night of Bev-Harden-Ariza-Jones-Howard has been used 2 times

— Adam Wexler (@awexler) March 21, 2015

If the listed potential six players are out the reserves consists of:

  • Shooting Guard: Nick Johnson
  • Small Forward: K.J. McDaniels
  • Power Forward:Josh Smith
  • Center: Clint Capela? I’m not even sure if he’s with the team, but he’s played so few minutes and the fact McHale hasn’t used him already sort of rules him out.

Odds are Jason Terry will dress, but it’s likely Ariza won’t play and Beverley may be forced out given he’s been playing through this elbow injury for over a week. Still, of the nine players likely to dress four represent players who would normally only get minutes in a blow-out game.

Jason Terry (trying to put super hero career behind him with stage adaptation of Raymond Carver story) is probable Saturday vs Phoenix

— NBA Injury Report (@NBAInjuryR3port) March 21, 2015

Fortunately the timing of Houston’s injuries does coincide with the Suns also decimated with injuries of their own, especially up front. This game has the potential to look like a pick-up game at a YMCA or for one team to register a blow-out win.

The biggest questions surround guards Beverley and Terry. If they both dress Houston could go crazy from behind the arc and end the game by the half.

It concerns me if both Ariza and Beverley can’t go. Let’s hope James Harden doesn’t try to do too much as Houston can ill afford to lose their leader.

Next: Pivotal moment Harden became a leader

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