Time: 5 pm (local)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona Plus
Radio: 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns (20-58) travel to Houston in their second-to-last road game of the season to face a 38-40 Rockets team still fighting to make the playoffs.
The Rockets are currently a game back of the No. 8 Utah Jazz after losing to the Dallas Mavericks yesterday. The bright spot for Houston is that their remaining schedule isn't soft; it's downright marshmallowy. They play Phoenix, the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Sacramento Kings to wrap up their regular season with only one of those games being on the road. The Rockets need help to reach the postseason, but their schedule couldn't be much more forgiving.
James Harden is still the leader of these Rockets. He is second in the NBA in scoring (28.6) to Stephen Curry and seventh in assists (7.5) but also is worst in the NBA at committing turnovers (4.7 per game). Dwight Howard, who is rumored to be seeking a max contract this summer, is third in the league in rebounds (11.9) but is scoring just 13.8 points per game — his lowest average since his rookie season — as the Rockets get him just 8.4 field goal attempts per game. Trevor Ariza is sixth in the NBA in steals (2.0). Former Suns castoff Michael Beasley has returned to the NBA and is making the most of his opportunity with the Rockets as their primary bench scorer. Josh Smith, who also returned to the Rockets this year from the Los Angeles Clippers, has made the least of his opportunity. Patrick Beverley is still a pest.
Houston as a team continues to launch 3-pointers, ranking second to the Golden State Warriors with 30.7 attempts per game. That would be better if the Rockets shot a higher percentage than 34.3 from beyond the arc (22nd in the NBA). That trend of offsetting something good with something poor permeates this Rockets team. The Rockets rank sixth in the NBA for offensive rebounds (11.4) but are 27th in defensive rebounds (31.7). They rank fourth in points per game (105.7) but are 26th in points allowed (106.4). They are tied with the Boston Celtics for most turnovers forced (16.5) but are 27th in turnovers committed(15.9). Story of their season.
Points: James Harden (28.6)
Rebounds: Dwight Howard (11.9)
Assists: James Harden (7.5)
The Suns find themselves in the midst of another protracted losing streak, this one being seven games and counting, and clinched sole possession of the franchise's second-worst record ever with their 103-90 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. With Brandon Knight joining Eric Bledsoe and T.J. Warren in permanent street clothes for the rest of the season, Phoenix has returned to its trial-and-error lineups, and there has been a significant amount of error. The Suns have committed 20 or more turnovers in six of the past seven games during this losing streak.
The vets have yet to throw in the towel on the season. Tyson Chandler has been gathering rebounds like squirrels do nuts despite a balky back, and both P.J. Tucker and Ronnie Price could play a career-high number of games this season (82 and 62 respectively) as they jockey for the coveted Majerle Hustle Award. Devin Booker (13.7 points per game) is in line to average the most points as a rookie for the Suns since Michael Finley (15.0) in 1995-96. Mirza Teletovic finally passed Chuck Person's mark of 164 made 3s off the bench; he now has 165. As for the rest of the active roster, well, they try.
The Suns rank 30th in the NBA in turnovers (17.1 per game) and 28th in field goal percentage (43.3 percent) but are at least seventh in offensive rebounds (11.2) and ninth in total rebounds (44.4).
Points: Eric Bledsoe (20.4)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (8.8)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (6.1)
Eric Bledsoe (Suns): left knee surgery (OUT)
T.J. Warren (Suns): right foot surgery (OUT)
Brandon Knight (Suns): sports hernia (OUT)
Sam Dekker (Rockets): back surgery (OUT)
The Rockets are coming off an 88-86 loss in Dallas yesterday that dealt a significant blow to their playoff chances just a season removed from making the Western Conference Finals. That could make for either a very motivated Houston team or a very tired Houston team — a team that has taken both meetings between the two squads this season.
Harden has averaged 22 points, 9.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 2.5 steals in the first two meetings with the Suns while Ariza has gone off for 23.5 points and 4.5 steals. While the Suns will undoubtedly have those two names at or near the top of the scouting report, it's the guys like Corey Brewer in the first meeting (24 points) or Beverley and Clint Capela in the second meeting (18 points and 11 points respectively) that have undermined any shot at winning for Phoenix. That under-the-radar player tonight will likely be Beasley, who has been instant offense off the bench. Phoenix also has committed 24 and 20 turnovers against the Rockets in the first two games. That does not bode well for tonight considering Phoenix's recent turnover woes.
Michael Beasley vs. Mirza Teletovic
Could the matchup have been James Harden vs. P.J. Tucker or Dwight Howard vs. Alex Len? Sure. Should it have been? Probably. But who in their right mind would have seen this one as even a remote possibility entering this season? No one. That's why it's the key matchup.
Since ending his season in China as the CBA's Most Valuable Player for averaging 31.9 points and 13.2 rebounds per game, Beasley has been an actual contributor for the Rockets. He is Houston's second-leading scorer at the moment, with an average of 14.1 points over 16 games off the bench. Then there's Mirza Teletovic, who now reigns as the NBA's greatest-ever 3-point shooter off the bench (or at least the one least hampered by a conscience) and is averaging a career-high 11.6 points as Phoenix's super sub. The two are both relied upon by their teams to provide points off the pine, and with them likely to defend each other at least some of the time tonight, it will be fun to see which non-defensive, offensive-minded player gets a leg up on the other. Whatever the outcome, it won't Be Easy. (I slay me.)