A disappointing home loss to the Magic on Sunday appears to have provided a bit of a wake-up call for the Phoenix Suns, as they've torched their two opponents since, beating both the Pacers and Mavericks by double digits, scoring 116 and 118 points.
The Rockets will pose a different challenge as their team, led by James Harden but missing injured rim protector Dwight Howard and perimeter pest Patrick Beverley, is playing surprisingly strong defense so far this season. They rate 3rd in the NBA in D-Rating, and even Harden, notorious for his matador defense, is bringing it on that end with a D-Rating of 98.
Injuries continue to plague the Rockets. Isaiah Canaan missed last night's OT victory over the Timberwolves with a sprained ankle, and Kostas Papanikolaou left the game with a sprained knee. Throw in the absence of Terrence Jones, and the Rockets might be missing 5 rotation players tonight. They keep winning, however, as they've taken 6 of their last 7 games.
Isaiah Thomas' lingering ankle bruise is the only injury concern for the Suns, and IT figures to be a game-time decision again after he missed his fifth consecutive game last night. A greater concern is how much fuel the Suns have in the tank for tonight's game.
While the Suns led the Mavs throughout the game and were never seriously threatened, they weren't able to take the pedal off the metal or empty the bench. Eric Bledsoe logged 40 minutes, Goran Dragic 37, and those were hard minutes. That intense play was a key to victory last night and figures to be again tonight. Will they have the energy to bring it?
Gratuitous Gerald Green highlight to brighten your day:
Keys to the Game
- Next man up: With both teams coming off a game last night, and the Rockets banged up, the benches figure to play a large role in tonight's contest. If IT can go for the Suns and play to his standards, it will help tremendously. He was acquired for situations exactly like this, after Bledsoe and Dragic played heavy minutes last night.
- P.J. Tucker vs. James Harden: Harden is a legitimate superstar. He scores (25.7 PPG), assists (6.5 APG), rebounds 6.0 RPG), and now he's even playing defense. His shooting %s are ho-hum, but he's still efficient because he makes a living at the FT line (9.8 FTAs/game). The shorthanded Rockets will rely heavily on Harden, and he's capable of carrying the team on his back. It will be up to the seemingly indefatigable Tucker to at least slow him down.
- Energy and intensity: After sleepwalking through most of the loss to the Magic, the Suns have played the way coach Jeff Hornacek wants them to in the last two victories. They're playing aggressive defense, moving the ball, and constantly pushing the pace. Will they have fresh legs to run and knock down their 3s?
- Fire-breathing Dragon: Remember when we were all concerned by Dragic's slow start? Our Slovenian star looks just fine recently, scoring 22, 34 and 28 points in the last three games. He's now the Suns leading scorer at 16.1 PPG, and his shooting %s are up to a robust 38% from 3 and 50% overall. Dragic has always been a streaky player, and he appears to be locked in right now.
PG: Eric Bledsoe vs.
The loathsome Jason Terry
SG: Goran Dragic vs. James Harden
SF: P.J. Tucker vs. Trevor Ariza
PF: Markieff Morris vs. Tarik Black
C: Miles Plumlee vs. Donatas Motiejunas
View from the other side: The Dream Shake
Game time: 6PM AZ Time
Television: Fox Sports AZ, with pre-game starting at 5:30
Radio: The inimitable Al McCoy will be calling the game on Phoenix 98.7 FM. Zing go the strings!
Join the game thread here at 5:30. There will be pie! (Disclaimer: Only if you bring your own pie.)