clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preview: The James Harden Experience makes pit stop at Talking Stick Resort Arena

Harden’s brilliance headlines tonight’s Suns-Rockets matchup.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host the Houston Rockets

When: 7:00 p.m. AZ

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable starters:

Suns - Elie Okobo, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, Deandre Ayton

Rockets - Chris Paul, James Harden, James Ennis III, P.J. Tucker, Kenneth Faried

Rockets

Everyone realizes what Harden pulled off last month, right? It’s not every day you get to witness someone average 43.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 7.6 assists with a 60.9 true shooting percentage. That month alone where Harden carried a ragtag Rockets team without Chris Paul and Clint Capela to an over .500 record is so impressive.

Even though Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, and Nikola Jokic have had their own impressive showcases, Harden might have won MVP in January.

In his 10th season, Harden has transformed into a more modern-day version of Kobe Bryant who instead of shooting mid-range jumpers jacks up threes and free throws at record rates. Let’s compared Harden and Bryant head-to-head for a moment, because the similarities are stark.

Harden (Year 10): 36.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 2.2 steals; 30.9 PER, 62.1 TS%, 42 AST%, 2.8 STL%, 1.8 BLK%, 40.2 USG%, 6.5 VORP

Bryant (Year 10): 35.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.8 steals; 28.0 PER, 55.9 TS%, 24.1 AST%, 2.4 STL%, 0.7 BLK%, 38.7 USG%, 6.5 VORP

So, if you want to get a front row seat to the new version of peak Kobe, check out Harden tonight at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The former Arizona State Sun Devil is putting up historic numbers, and here’s a thought Suns fans should ponder: Can Booker reach these Harden/Bryant levels?

In four to six years, could you see Booker averaging over 35 points per game while holding his weight on the defensive end? Harden has turned into a pseudo primary initiator while Kobe never passed, so Booker might have the edge at this stage of his career in terms of playmaking. Over Booker’s next contract, though, we will have to see more growth all-around as the 22-year-old tries to lead Phoenix out of the abyss.

Suns

Speaking of Booker, since he ditched the Headband Book look after his return from injury, he’s had back-to-back games over 30 points. And going against a wide-open, fast-paced Rockets team Booker has another great shot of going over 30.

Also, after shooting near 32 percent on three-pointers through 50-plus games of the season, Booker might be snapping out of his career-long slump. Over the past week, Booker is 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) from deep. If Booker along with others on the Suns can go toe-to-toe with Houston’s perimeter firepower, this could turn into a surprisingly competitive game.

Suns fans, if you aren’t already, you should be getting more excited as the season progresses about Mikal Bridges. The Suns’ rookie wing is finally becoming aggressive within the flow of the offense averaging 17.7 points on 9.3 field goal attempts in the past three outings while his All-Defense upside continues to maintain.

Bridges has the potential to turn into way more than the prototypical 3&D wing within head coach Igor Kokoskov’s system tailor-made for his biggest strengths.

The X-factor for the Suns tonight, at least from my point of view, is Deandre Ayton. The Suns’ first No. 1 overall pick in franchise history was definitely shaking off some rust after his two week absence from an ankle sprain, but he will need to feast against mismatches. Against the Rockets, Ayton will have the chance to go for 30 points if he truly wants to.

Faried can’t guard him. Tucker can’t guard him. No one from Houston can guard him. Phoenix should make it a priority feeding the big fella as plenty of attention will be sent Booker’s way.

Prediction

After averaging over 40 (!!) points in January, Harden and the Rockets will put on a show in Phoenix. Unfortunately for the Suns, that means Harden laying waste to the competition again with ease while dropping 40-50 points along the way.

I can easily envision Harden walking into Talking Stick Resort Arena dropping 44 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists on elite efficiency tonight. Let’s see if I’m close.

For the Suns to even keep this close, they will need another strong outing from Booker while Ayton tries to carry some of the load as well.

Rockets 122, Suns 106