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Game Preview: Oh boy, it’s the Rockets vs. the Suns - and the return of Mother Tucker!

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Former Suns Mike D’Antoni and P.J. Tucker return to Phoenix as the Rockets look for their 12th win.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

What: Houston Rockets versus Phoenix Suns

When: late start for TNT - 8:30 PM AZ Time

Where: Downtown Phoenix, Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: TNT

Listen: 98.7 FM


The Houston Rockets are good. The Suns are not. Perfect night to be on TNT!

Yes, Charles Barkley and the TNT crew get yet another chance to crap all over the Suns franchise. And it’s not like the Suns deserve any better.

Eight years after their last playoff caliber team and three or four roster churns later, there’s really only one guy on the Suns roster who would deserve to start for most playoff caliber teams.

So don’t expect sunshine and roses from the TNT crew tonight, folks.

“Mother Tucker”

Amidst all the circus and complaints, let’s remember that P.J. Tucker was ALWAYS loyal and professional for this Suns team. He always spoke highly of the Suns and was taken care of.

When he was traded last year, the Suns did him a solid by getting him to a playoff team (Raptors) without worrying about the return (nothing, really).

Now he’s on the Conference Finals contending Rockets and loving life as exactly the guys he’s been for years: gritty, all-out-effort while a couple corner threes a night.

Please CHEER FOR P.J. tonight when he comes into the game!

The Rockets

(Record: 11-4; Offensive rating: 3rd; Defensive rating: 11th; Pace: 12th)

Now here’s a team that keeps building and building around their young star. The Rockets found a way to acquire James Harden years ago for what ended as nothing important in exchange.

But since then, they’ve drafted, signed and acquired a few iterations of quality rosters around him.

The latest might just be their best - though I am a skeptic of the pairing of Chris Paul and James Harden. They will be very good together, of course, but I don’t know that they will bring out the best in each other. But that’s splitting hairs.

Paul has been out since game 1, but will return to action tonight against the Suns.

In his absence, Harden has been incredible: 30.7 points, 10.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds per night. Yeeeesh.

Eric Gordon - yes THAT Gordon - has been tremendous in a starting role as shooting guard next to Harden while Paul has been out. Gordon is posting 22+ points per game on a lot of usage (11 3PAs a game, hitting 34%).

Clint Capela continues to improve by leaps and bounds. He’s a great defensive force, grabs 11 boards a night and even scores 13 as a rim runner and finisher.

Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Ryan Anderson and Luc Mbah a Moute round out the every-game rotation as glue guys who do the dirty business and take spot-up threes as needed.

Coach Mike D’Antoni has the Rockets running on all cylinders offensively (3rd in the league in terms of points per possession) and the cast and crew around Harden are contributing to an 11th-ranked defense.

If not for the Golden State Warriors, the Rockets might be Finals contenders.

The Suns

(*Record: 5-7; Offensive rating: 22nd; Defensive Rating: 22nd; Pace: 3rd)

*In my reality, the Suns were awarded eight preseason games this season and did not start the 2017-18 season until October 22, 2017 thankyouverymuch

Since head coach Jay Triano took over on October 22, the Suns have been respectable. Their 5-7 record is a tale of two runs, stumbling to a 1-6 record after their 4-1 start. The Suns simply don’t have the horses to compete on most nights. But at least those losses are respectable and competitive.

Devin Booker has been a beast who truly would be a starter on most NBA teams, and would “deserve” to start for anyone. Check out Evan’s article on Booker for more.

T.J. Warren has been great as the second scorer with 20 points and 6.3 rebounds in 29 minutes per game since Triano took over and returned Buckets to his natural small forward position.

After those two, only Tyson Chandler (26) and Mike James (25) play more than 23 minutes per night under Triano. The Suns run 10+ deep with hefty substitution patterns and players getting more/less minutes based on how well they are playing that night.

Somehow, Triano has made this team competitive and notched wins over Utah, Washington and Minnesota - all playoff contenders - despite the lack of NBA-ready talent at his disposal. I won’t be calling him ‘interim’ any more this year. He has earned the right to just be called ‘coach’.

But don’t take that to mean I want the Suns to simply hire Triano long term. The Suns should go on a long coaching search next April-June and if Triano wins out after that search, then he deserves the job. He’s certainly got the best resume of any coach the Suns have had since Gentry, so it’s not like he’s a novice.

Prediction

Blood. Lots of blood. I’m sorry Suns fans. I don’t have a good feeling about this game. The Suns simply don’t have the juice to keep up with a soaring Rockets team.