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Preview: Suns need to show early-season effort against Rockets

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The Suns are on a five-game losing streak, needing a win in a big way.

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

What: Houston Rockets (19-9) at Phoenix Suns (11-17)

When: Saturday, December 21 at 7:00 PM

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


It’s tough to break a five-game losing streak against any opponent, but even tougher when it’s got to come against a surging Rockets team.

But that’s what is happening to the Suns tonight. The Rockets have won 8 of their last 11 games, including a win over these Suns, while the Suns have lost 13 of 17 overall, including a loss to these Rockets.

Probable Starting Lineups

The Rockets

James Harden is once again posting incredible league-leading scoring numbers (38.5 points per game) and Russell Westbrook is getting more and more comfortable next to him, while all the other Rockets fit like gloves around the stars.

Russell’s stats are down a bit overall this year compared to his last two MVP-level seasons, at 23.5 points, 7.1 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game. But 8-time All-Star and former league MVP is putting up 29.2 points per game over his last six and he’s still putting up nearly a triple-double.

Houston is doing all this without one of the game’s best sixth men. Guard Eric Gordon (knee) is out through end of December, at least.

There’s not much more to say about the Rockets. They are going to ride a pair of league MVPs (Westbrook 2017, Harden 2018) deep into the playoffs and the regular season is simply about where they start that playoff run.

Suns-Rockets connections

This game should have a warm return for former fan favorite and multiple-time Dan Majerle Hustle Award winner P.J. Tucker.

Also playing for the Rockets is former 10-day contract guy Danuel House, who has made himself into a viable NBA rotation player, multi-year contract winner, and now a starter for a top-four seed in the Western Conference.

Both are “ones that got away” during McDonough’s tenure.

The Suns

What is going on with the backup point guard rotation? I’ve seen multiple games in a row now with Ty Jerome, Jevon Carter and Elie Okobo all out there together as if it’s a game of Survivor. Who thinks that would work? They’re all deeply flawed players who really should not be on the court at the same time in threes.

Even in these last few weeks, the Suns starting lineup is still a net-plus with either Baynes or Frank as the fifth starter. It’s the second unit that’s struggled mightily. They just can’t seem to get it together when more than two of the starters are off the floor.

We don’t know if Deandre Ayton will play tonight against the Rockets, but at least Aron Baynes will be in there. One of them will get the start against Clint Capela. I think it would be nice to give most of the big man minutes to Ayton and Baynes and have Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky give a few of theirs to Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson.

Either way, the Suns should be better equipped to play the Rockets this time than they did in Houston a couple weeks ago when they were missing both Baynes and Ayton. The Suns lost that game by only six points on a late Harden run despite Frank going 2-9 from the floor in 23 pretty outmatched minutes against Capela.

Stats

Prediction

Suns lose, but by less than 18.