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Game Preview: Booker, Suns host James Harden, Rockets

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Suns host Rockets on a SEGABABA.

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NBA: Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns vs. Houston Rockets

When: 6:00 PM AZ Time (early start)

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


It’s the home stretch, just a handful of games left in the regular season. While the Houston Rockets are gearing up for an intense playoffs, the Suns are gearing up for summer break. I think I even saw a few yearbooks laying around as guys get their teammates to write inspiring notes and quips to each other.

The Rockets

Mike D’Antoni, James Harden and the Houston Rockets are pretty well settled into the 3rd seed in the West, hoping their spread-out, drive and kick offense can hold up to a playoff series.

Let’s give credit to Mike D’Antoni for resurrecting his coaching resume by bringing one more team into the limelight with a crazy offense behind an MVP caliber point guard and a boat load of three-point shooting.

After coming up short in New York and LA, D’Antoni came to Houston with the crazy idea to make shooting guard James Harden his full-time PG, which has unleashed a beast: 29.2 points, 11.2 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game. He controls every aspect of the Rockets’ #2 ranked offense and has even been playing some defense of late.

The Rockets profile much like the mid-2000s Suns, with one of the league’s best offenses (#2 overall) and a mid-pack defense (#17) anchored by a couple of defensive dynamos (Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverly) covering for everyone else’s mistakes.

Their three-point shooters come at you in waves, from Harden to Eric Gordon to Ryan Anderson (out tonight with sprained ankle) to Ariza to Lou Williams all throwing up at least 5.5 bombs per game. That’s five Rockets averaging more three-point attempts per game than ANY of the Phoenix Suns.

Now the Rockets gear up to take their show into the playoffs, and it will all be in the hands of the greatest ASU basketball player ever: Mr. James Harden. The Beard.

The Suns

At this point, it’s just a countdown. The Phoenix Suns have 5 games left in the regular season and all that’s left is simply showing up. You’d think the players would just coast through games while they daydream about summer breaks and workout schedules and prepping for next year.

Give credit to coach Earl Watson for making sure his guys don’t just show up. These young players might not play smart, but they sure play hard. Watson won’t let these guys coast. They all play with maximum effort, a true feat considering these are millennials who usually can’t handle adversity (right Robert?) and that’s got to be the best thing Watson has done this year.

Even after getting punched in the face by his GM and owner when they told him to sit down Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight, and then Eric Bledsoe when the Suns still kept winning games.

“That was like a right hook I didn’t see coming. But I got back up. And I think our young guys have responded well.”

Leading the charge lately are Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and T.J. Warren - guys who have played all year and know how to handle consistent minutes. Their energy and production are the most consistent on the team.

Around them, it’s clear that Alan “Big Sauce” Williams and Tyler Ulis are struggling to keep up their energy throughout the game as their bodies are likely feeling a bit rubbery from the sudden exertion. And it’s clear that Derrick Jones Jr. - who’s resume before March included only a couple-dozen NCAA games and a few D-league games - is not quite ready for prime time.

The last time

The last time these teams played might be the best example of why “play the vets” didn’t necessarily work any better than the current “play the kids” iteration.

Heading into the All-Star break, the Suns laid an egg in Houston. A big egg. Maybe even a deep brown colored one.

Eric Bledsoe got his first “DNP-rest” game as the Suns probably tried to showcase Brandon Knight for trades, but Knight produced only 2 points (1-8 shooting), 0 assists and 0 rebounds for a -37 in 20 awful minutes of play. Conversely, Tyler Ulis had his coming out party with 13 points, 6 assists (one TO) for a +6 in 28 minutes off the bench in what was a 31-point loss in 48 minutes.

Dragan Time?

Both the coach and GM have expressed excitement that Dragan Bender would see the court again this season over the last 4-5 games. The Suns have 5 games left, including tonight, and will need some fresh energy after playing in Portland the night before.

When/if Bender takes the court, he will make the league’s youngest rotation even younger.

Prediction

Once again, the Suns are on a back-to-back and, of course, without Bledsoe, Chandler and Knight.

And once again, the Rockets are licking their chops.

Let’s see if the Suns can come out and surprise the Rockets with at least a tough game, if not a win to break their 11-game losing streak.

The Suns will want to show well tonight, as the arena will be nearly if not totally sold out and loaded with celebrities biding their time between the NCAA Final Four games last night and the Championship game tomorrow night. Hey, you cling to what you can, you know?