Time: 1:30 pm (Phoenix time)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona, NBA TV
Radio: 98.7 FM
This may be Holidays with Deadpoolio, but I tell you, I am aghast. That’s because 32 years ago on this very day, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven people on board. Now, am I to believe that the NBA was completely ignorant of this fact when they scheduled the Suns against the Houston Rockets on a Holidays with Deadpoolio game? Ha! Far more likely, this is a nefarious plot hatched between Adam Silver and Disney/Marvel to destroy me and my credibility by baiting me into making an absurdly obvious joke about this tragedy that would ultimately lead to my undoing. Well, nice try, but I won’t fall for it. Not even if it was a really good joke, which it was. …Heh heh. Blow-by.
The Phoenix Suns (17-32), playing a day game, will be seeking an unlikely win against the NBA’s second-best team, the Houston Rockets (34-13).
The Rockets lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 115-113 on Friday in New Orleans. They had won seven of their last eight games before that loss.
James Harden is having another terrific season and might very well win that elusive MVP award here in 2018. He leads the league in scoring at 31 points per game and is third in assists at 9.1. His backcourt mate, Chris Paul, has been a seamless addition, contributing 19.5 points and 8.7 assists in an offense that seems tailor-made to accommodate two elite playmakers. Surrounding them are complementary players of the highest order. Eric Gordon is averaging 19.6 points — his highest scoring season since 2011-12 despite a 3-point percentage a few ticks below his career average. Other notable incendiary scorers on the roster are Trevor Ariza (12.3 points), Gerald Green (14.2), and Ryan Anderson (9.9). Then there are the dirt workers. Former Sun P.J. Tucker is still carving out niches wherever he goes, as he is the only Rocket to play in every game this season. Luc Mbah a Moute is in a similar mold as Tucker, and Clint Capela could make a Capelling (eh?) case for Most Improved, averaging a double-double on the season (14.4 points, 10.7 rebounds) to go along with 1.7 blocks and a field goal percentage of 66.8 percent — all career highs.
One of the surprising stats regarding the Rockets is that they do not average many assists. Their 22.3 assists per game ranks 17th in the league despite having two players averaging close to nine assists apiece. But when the third-best player on your roster is only at 2.6 assists, the numbers quickly level out. One unsurprising stat regarding the Rockets is that they shoot many, many threes. They lead the league with 43.2 attempts per game; the second-place team is the Brooklyn Nets at 34. In fact, there have been 22 instances in NBA history where a team attempted 50 or more 3-pointers in a single game, and Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets account for 19 of them, including a season-high of 57 and an NBA-record 61 last season. However, Houston doesn’t actually shoot a high percentage from 3; rather, they are pretty close to the median at 36.5 percent. But they score 114.1 points per game, so they’re doing something right.
Points: James Harden (31.0)
Rebounds: Clint Capela (10.7)
Assists: James Harden (9.1)
The Suns have resembled a bee trapped on the surface of a swimming pool thus far in January, fighting hard at times but ultimately getting nowhere. They are 3-8 in the month and have slipped away in the standings. Phoenix is now far closer to a No. 1 pick than the No. 8 playoff seed.
Head coach Jay Triano tried out a new starting lineup on Friday, going with a unit of Devin Booker, Troy Daniels, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, and Greg Monroe. The results were unimpressive, as Phoenix never held a lead in losing by 22 to the road-weary New York Knicks. The Point Booker experiment saw him post a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio while failing to get his own offense on track, but neither Isaiah Canaan nor Tyler Ulis — who came off the bench for the first time since Nov. 10 — offered a persuasive argument for why they should relieve Booker of his new duties. It will be interesting to see how long Triano sticks with this look.
Points: Devin Booker (24.5)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.5)
Assists: Devin Booker (4.6)
Tyson Chandler (Suns): illness (QUESTIONABLE)
Brandon Knight (Suns): torn left ACL (OUT)
Alex Len (Suns): ankle soreness (QUESTIONABLE)
Alan Williams (Suns): torn right meniscus (OUT)
Zhou Qi (Rockets): right elbow injury (OUT)
These two teams have met twice this season, with both games being played in Phoenix and both resulting in losses for the Suns. The Rockets won 142-116 on Nov. 16 in a laughable defensive display by the home team, and they won 112-95 on Jan. 12 in a game Harden missed due to injury. Now the Suns are playing in Houston and facing a title-contending team that just lost its last game. That’s…sub-optimal. But anyone can beat anyone in this league, so what do the Suns have to do to win? Get out on the 3-point shooters first and foremost. That’s what Houston does; they’re programmed to look for threes. Get out to the arc, have a hand up, don’t leave your feet, and make them drive. Failing that, maybe watch I, Tonya for alternate strategies for a win.
Devin Booker vs. James Harden
It has become trendy to compare Devin Booker to James Harden, so here’s Booker’s chance to test himself against the real McCoy (not Al). Harden is a special player in the league and can hang fouls on defenders like a feng shui master does crystals in a window. Because of that, his task will be especially onerous today, as Booker will be responsible for his own offense, initiating the offense for his teammates, and playing good defense against one of the league’s elite without picking up fouls. If Booker can be the aggressor and get Harden in foul trouble, though, that’s a huge benefit for Phoenix. Whatever happens, there will be no hiding for Booker, but then again, he likes it that way.
Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)
It’s a record almost 14 years in the making, but with the team’s first made 3-pointer tonight, the Phoenix Suns will tie the Dallas Mavericks for the most consecutive games with at least one made 3 (1,108) in NBA history. For those interested, this run for the Suns started on Mar. 29, 2004 against the Washington Wizards in a game where they went 2 of 12 from 3.