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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns host James Harden, Houston Rockets on TNT

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns are 29-24 this season, on the short end of four different buzzer beaters this season (plus Memphis' score with 4.5 seconds left) vs. none of their own. One of those buzzer beaters was at the hands of Houston's James Harden just 2.5 weeks ago right here in Phoenix.

As a result, they enter the All-Star break still in playoff position but teetering on the edge as the Thunder and Pelicans breathe down their necks from behind.

Under the pressure, the Suns have somehow forgotten how to play offense. They were the league's 4th best offense until about three weeks ago, but have suddenly been one of the worst over the past 8 games. These days, the Suns appear to be waiting for the next shoe to drop rather than taking that shoe and throwing it back in the other direction. Four buzzer beaters will do that to you.

Could they break out tonight agains the Rox, exorcising some demons in an emphatic triumph? Could the Suns reverse their recent trend and enter the All-Star break on a high?

We shall see tonight, on national TV. TNT is in town. On the bright side, the Suns are 5-1 on national TV games this season.

Details

  • What: Phoenix Suns vs. Houston Rockets
  • Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona
  • When: 6:00 PM
  • TV: TNT, FoxSports Arizona
  • Radio: ArizonaSports 98.7 FM

Big thanks to our 'Find the Best' partners for the snazzy graphic! Feel free to click all over that interactive graphic for an in-depth comparison of the teams for tonight's game.

The Rockets

Just like last time the Houston Rockets played the Phoenix Suns, they will be without their top center, Dwight Howard. Howard left the Suns game with leg injury in the first quarter and has not played since.

Yet, the Rockets keep winning. They have won 5 of 7 games since the game-winner over the Suns. Donatas Motiejunas continues to be effective in a starting role for the Rockets (42 starts in 51 games this season), with two double-doubles and 6 of 7 games with 10+ points scored since the last Suns/Rockets game.

Joey Dorsey takes Howard's starting spot, but in name only. He has played 20+ minutes only once in seven games since the Howard injury.

Josh Smith is the player getting all the minutes in Howard's absence as D-Mo moves into the center position when he's out there. In the past seven games, Smith has played 25+ minutes six times, scored 10+ points six times, made 50% of his shots four times and grabbed 10+ rebounds three times. Smith has also made 40% of his three-pointers over the last 10 games.

But this is James Harden's show through and through. Over the past 10 games (including the 33-point Suns game), Harden is averaging 31 points, 6.9 assists, 5.2 rebounds and making 45% of his three-pointers.

Check out more on the Rockets at our brother site The Dream Shake

The Suns

Just when you thought it was safe to assume the Phoenix Suns were all grown up enough to stop taking bad teams lightly, they lay a stinker against the lowly Sacramento Kings who had lost something like 10,000 games in a row and even after the win were lamenting the potential upheaval a new coach could bring (wha??).

The awful shooting night, culminating in a season-low 83 points on 36% shooting, combines with two 87-point outings to put the Suns in their worst offensive stretch of the season. Over their last 8 games, the Suns are 26th in the league in offensive efficiency, 25th in effective field goal % and 26th in true shooting percentage.

What happened?

Who knows. Health has not really been a factor. Alex Len has missed a couple of games and Eric Bledsoe missed one, but they've been good to go for most of the bad offensive run.

Yet Goran Dragic has nearly disappeared despite getting regular minutes, and Gerald Green has gone back to the guy who couldn't make it in the league for several years. P.J. Tucker has forgotten how to make threes, as has most of the team (33% shooting over the last 8, even factoring in 14-for-27 against Utah on Friday).

Dragic, a year after being third-team All-NBA, has been in a funk off and on all season, partially due to changes in his role and partially due to his own play.

Maybe they can right the ship against the Rockets because it's on TNT (the early game - tip off at 6pm). The Suns are 5-1 in national TV games this year, their first loss coming last week on TNT to Portland after starting 5-0.

The Lineups

suns-rox-lineups

Out on a limb

Patrick Beverly has done very little over the past 10 games for the Rockets, shooting only 27% on threes and scoring just 7 points per game.

But this is the Suns, and he always plays well against the Suns. In two games this season, he's averaged 16.5 points and made 9 of 15 threes. Expect more of the same tonight.

Interested in playing Daily Fantasy Basketball with the chance to win money? Sign up for FanDuel here! You can bet on Suns players doing well tonight, or bet on their opponents, most notably James Harden.

Prediction

Who the heck knows. The Suns could win this one easily by making a ton of shots while the Rockets suffer from missing Dwight, or the Rockets could pour it on a reeling Suns team who can't make shots lately.

I'll go with the former, since this is a Suns blog (and I can't stand the idea of another nail biter!)

Suns by 10. Just cuz.