When: 6:00 PM AZ time
Where: Houston, Texas
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Tonight is a big game for the Phoenix Suns as the team heads on the road to face the Houston Rockets. In what should be a barn burner of a game, the Suns will need to be perfect in order to beat the Rockets.
This game will be the last of a four game road trip where the Suns beat the Charlotte Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans yet lost to the Orlando Magic. The Rockets are also coming off a brief road trip with loss to the San Antonio Spurs and a win against the Toronto Raptors. Considering how exhausted the Suns might, especially after a back to back two days prior, the team might get on the wrong foot which might kill them.
As if the odds weren’t in their favor already, the Suns will be without their big man in the middle once again as center Aron Baynes is out with a calf injury. The Suns have struggled defensively with his absence and its shown in the stats as they’re 20th in defensive rating with 109.9, 1.5 below the 15th place Rockets’ 108.4 rating.
In the last ten games, two of which Baynes has played, the Suns have a defensive rating of 115.3, 26th in the league. In the month of October, when the Suns were on fire, the team was eighth in that category with 100 rating. Though that was a small sample size and teams have adjusted to the Suns, it shows how the team has struggled with Baynes in and out of the lineup. He’s not the be-all end-all of the team but with Deandre Ayton out, his absence is a larger hole to deal with.
A matchup the Rockets should take full advantage of is Clint Capela as the Suns will be playing the Suns’ third string center on him. The Rockets don’t use Capela that much but the Suns will undoubtedly struggle against the big man. Expect him to gobble up rebounds, both offensive and defensive, and putting up a bunch of second chance points.
The team is still getting buckets on the offensive side though and that’s keeping them afloat in the West. The Suns have a 111.4 offensive rating this year which is 6th in the league and 2.1 below the Rockets, who’re 3rd in the league. There still isn’t a team doing better in assists as the Suns have an assist percentage of 68.3, best in the league and 14.3 percent better than 29th place Rockets. This is an interesting dynamic between the two teams on how they play. The Rockets rely HEAVILY on their two stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook to make and create shots. The Suns play more team ball and though Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre can get their points at will, Booker averaging 25 to Oubre’s 17.1 ppg, they’re staying within the system and passing for a better shot than taking it.
The Rockets on the other hand have been up and down after their 11-3 start to the season. They’re an offensive juggernaut once again and Harden, averaging 38.7 points per game, looks hellbent to average 40 in a season and finally win this year. The team is built around Harden and though Westbrook gets his (both take 20+ shots a game on average), Harden is the definitive alpha of the team as he has a green light to do whatever he wants. The two are the engines in creating plays as well, averaging a combined 14.8 assists per game, meanwhile the rest of the team averages 7.2 assists per game.
The team’s strategy is pretty simple, take threes, take layups, get fouled and hit those free throws. This shows in the numbers as the Rockets are fifth in field goals attempted (91.5), first in three’s taken (46.4) and first in free throws shot (29.6). Even when you look deeper into how far these shots are, the Rockets are taking 13.2 shots per game from 5-19 feet from the basket. The rest of their shots come from inside five feet from the basket (30.6) and from 20 feet (47.2).
What’s even more interesting about this team is how they’re taking all these shot yet they’re not making them. The Rockets are 22nd in field goal percentage with 44.5 and 25th in three point percentage (34.4). Now, these stats are a bit skewed since the team started off poorly shooting wise but it’s insane how this team, fueled by Westbrook and Harden just taking almost 40% of shots, is able to shoot that much, that poorly and still win games.
Everything about this game screams loss for the Suns. This is the last of a four-game road trip and just played a back-to-back game two days ago. The Suns are missing their center while going up against Capela. The defense is struggling and they’re up against a team that’s hellbent on breaking offensive records. Even if Westbrook and Harden have bad shooting nights, Harden excels at getting to the line and getting those points. I think the Suns will keep pace but will ultimately lose to the Rockets.