Game Day: Houston Rockets versus Phoenix Suns
It’s been an odd few days for the Houston Rockets as they requested the league to rescind technical fouls given to Dwight Howard that resulted in him being ejected in back to back games. The Association in turn decided to rub salt in the wound fining J.B. Bickerstaff $10,000 for his comments about the officiating and Howard not only didn’t get vindication, he ended up missing yet another game due to a suspension.
This time the Rockets were told his suspension was tied to him “hitting” a ref. If you’ve seen the clip you know Howard was pushing the refs hand off him (which begs the question are referees allowed to touch players?) and it was a very harmless touch. The reality is the league doesn’t want to deal with what happened in the games versus the Thunder or more specifically Washington which included cheap shots and potentially purposely harmful plays.
To be fair the officiating has been absolutely brutal this season and affected many teams. To wit, the second game Tyronn Lue coached and registered his first victory over the T-Wolves was a joke. Lue should be sending the entire zebra crew return presents for that gift. Howard’s situation is just calling into the headlines the fact these bad calls are now bordering on players getting hurt.
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) February 2, 2016
The NBA saw it differently by suspending Howard, but moving forward we’ll see whether Howard, Bickerstaff and the franchise will quietly tuck in their tail and not speak up or if they’ll continue to push the Association on bad calls where their stars could get injured.
Though tonight’s match doesn’t feature a top talent there will once again be tough, gritty players like P.J. Tucker and Alex Len has been known to mix it up as well. This highlights the danger of the league allowing Wizards’ Dudley, Nene and Gortat to play dirty because now the Suns may also try to play using arm bars (a move that holds down a players arms and can lead to shoulder separation or at worst a broken arm). Not that you would ever wish for a player to get injured but in my opinion it’s going to take a super star player getting hurt in one of these games where the refs whistle is biased.
Week 15 began with news the Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek had been fired and replaced for the short term by Assistant Coach Earl Watson who’ll function in an interim role.
Lets talk a look at the match-up in our game day countdown:
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston
Game Time: 9:00 PM EST – 8:00 PM CT
TV: ROOT in Houston, FSAZ+ in Phoenix or NBA League Pass
Radio: 790 AM in Houston and AZ Sports 98.7 FM in Phoenix
Last season the Rockets took 3 of 4 meetings, tonight marks the first time these teams meet this season.
Mar 21: PHO 117 – 102 @ HOU
Feb 10: HOU 127 – 118 @PHO
Jan 23: HOU 113- 111 @PHO
Dec 6th: PHO 94 – 100 @ HOU
I think this might be the longest cumulative injury list of the season as both squads have multiple players out hurt or nursing injuries:
- Ronnie Price – foot, had right toe surgery, targeting a March return
- T.J. Warren – ankle, now being listed as out for season
- Brandon Knight –groin, game time decision
- Eric Bledsoe – knee, out for season
- Terrence Jones – was in a car accident last night, didn’t travel with team and being held out until Feb 6 as precautions
- Clint Capela – thigh/hip, game time decision
- Montrezl Harrell – illness, out until Feb 6 at minimum
- Sam Dekker – back surgery November 20 , out until March 1 minimum
- Donatas Motiejunas – was sent done to D-League to get some minutes, but was recalled so fact CBS Sports says he won’t be available until Feb 9 is interesting. I’m wondering if he’ll get some run tonight given Jones absence.
Notes: the Suns are depleted at the point especially if Knight can’t go again.
- Monday Earl Watson was named interim head coach of the Suns.
- Harden returns to his College area having played at Arizona State University
- Harden’s 26.6 point per game scoring average versus the Suns is his highest against any team
- The Rockets have won the last 3 games in Phoenix, won 3 of 4 last season and are 5-1 in their past 6
- Suns have lost 17 games (won 2) since Bledsoe’s season ending knee injury
- Suns rank in bottom 4 of all three major categories: offense (27), defense (29) and net (27)
- Suns are 2-20 in their past 22 games
The Key Match-up:
With so many players out injured and uncertainty over who might return from injury (Knight, Motiejunas) rather than pick a positional match-up let me highlight two opposing players to keep an eye on:
Devin Booker: He still sports the baby face we witnessed in summer league, but his growth and comfort in the Association is palpable. Sure he still has a long way to go, but there is reason to believe this kid is going to be something special. His shot is so pure he takes on comparisons to two young guards over in Golden State. Yet unlike those All-Stars something Booker already seems to have is a good feel for mixing up his offense and his defense is vastly improved since season start. Sure he still has a long way to go, but now that Warren is out of the season he’ll start the remainder of the season and he’ll be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year when all is said and done.
Last game out he hit six 3 pointers and scored 27 points. Suffice to say the kid impressed me so much I think he’s already moved past several of his rookie counterparts in terms of his growth. While the Suns entered the season hoping for a playoff berth the one player who probably benefited the most by them failing was Booker. Keep your eye on his shooting stroke and the ease with which he gets it off.
Markieff Morris: Whether it was a matter of the new coach, the view of it being a fresh start or Morris wanting Toronto to consider him as a trade target he literally had his way Tuesday versus the Raptors with an impressive box line of where he posted season highs in points (30), rebounds (11) and assists (6). He shot 13 of 20 from the field also added a steal and 2 blocks.
If Morris was excited to get some minutes against Toronto, make no doubt he’ll be amped to play against the team rumored to be interested in him and the one he was most closely linked (given he worked out with many Rockets this past off season). Expect Morris to drive home the reason why Daryl Morey should look to trade from him this year.
Avoid the urge to make this a track meet: A quick look at the stat comparison above showcases the Rockets should be able to dominate the Suns offensively. Yet a closer look shows both teams are brutal defensively each allowing teams to score well over 100 points and shoot over 52% from the field. Here’s the thing if the Rockets fall into playing a full out run and gun game they are asking for trouble as several Suns players like Booker, Goodwin and Teletovic could all get hot behind the line. It’s time for Houston to let their defense dictate how the game is played and tonight would be a great place to begin implementing those habits.
Play the opponent, not the record: while the Suns appear lottery bound and are injury depleted the Rockets need to be careful not to fall into the trap of playing the record. Although the team didn’t win in their first outing under Watson they definitely brought effort. It’s unusual for a new coach to have to wait a long time to be rewarded in that regard, so the Rockets need to stay focused.
Focus on fundamentals: there are so many little areas of the game the Rockets need to improve such as limiting turnovers, finishing plays, boxing out players, helping the helper… etc, etc. It’s time the Rockets got back to basics and made those fundamental items a priority.
The odds makers have the Rockets favored by 8 points with an over-under of 214 and heavy early action leaning toward Houston.
While the Suns played with energy in their first outing under new head coach Earl Watson they still lost their 20th game in 22 attempts.
Prediction: Again expect the Suns to come out with a view to impress Watson. When a team has nothing to lose they shoot freely and comfortably which the Rockets should expect. In essence this Suns squad is predominantly comprised of 2 types of players: those who are auditioning for the trade deadline (Morris, Chandler?) and those who are gaining experience with every minute on the court (Booker, Goodwin). The bottom line is the Rockets can’t afford to lose anymore games to teams they should beat handily. To that end, I’m picking the Rockets to finally acknowledge there is no time like the present to start their ascent up the ladder… that said I’m antsy to give them the spread so I’ll say Rockets by 5.
I’m also going to predict some individual accolades tonight and while I won’t predict back to back season stat highs for Morris I think it’s safe to expect close to a double-double from him and potentially back to back 30 point offerings. Moreover, look for Booker to continue shooting lights out from behind the arc and if the Rockets don’t play defense early expect Booker to make them pay from the land beyond the arc!
For more exciting news and stories on the Phoenix Suns visit our affiliate Fansided site: Valley Of The Suns Plus check our our Preseason Team Preview of the Suns :
And while you are here why not check our our countdown to the trade deadline series:
With the trade deadline around the corner make sure you visit Space City Scoop daily for our trade series. Each day SCS will feature an article on who the Rockets should trade for or what it would take to part ways with the players currently on the roster. Finally we’ll assess the Rockets and each team in the Association in terms of what their needs are, if they should be buyers or sellers and also speculate on who would be the ideal trade target.