When: 4:00 p.m. AZ
Where: Toyota Center
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Rockets: Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela
Suns: Elie Okobo, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Ray Spalding
115.0 ORtg (3rd) - 110.8 DRtg (18th) = plus-4.2 netRtg (7th)
The Rockets need this one. With just two games left in the season and playoff seeding very much on the line, we won’t get the meandering, effortless Rockets we saw at home in Phoenix in February. It’s crunch time in the regular season, and Harden wants his MVP.
Houston could still fall as low as fifth in the standings unless they clean up to close the year, and this one’s at home. Getting into second or third place is huge for this team so as to avoid the Warriors until the conference finals. They will be ready to go.
One thing that could hurt Houston in this matchup is size. They have decided to fully lean into their small, three-guard lineup with Gordon at the 3 just as Phoenix is left with no choice but to play big with Bender at the 4 and Bridges at the 2. In these teams’ last matchup, Bridges was able to lock down Paul and Harden on the perimeter. Having him on the perimeter full time means the Suns may be in a better position to defend the Rockets.
Of course, Houston enters every game with the chance to blow the hinges off the competition. Suns fans will remember that feeling that Mike D’Antoni-coached teams inspire. That’s what I expect them to do against the Suns tonight.
105.6 ORtg (28th) - 114.9 DRtg (29th) = minus-9.3 netRtg
Just about every Suns win this year has come when they’ve been able to muck up the game, make 3s and get lucky. That recipe works against good teams having an off night and bad teams that don’t have the talent to limit mistakes, but it’s hard to imagine it working against a fully locked-in Rockets team in the middle of a playoff push.
It will be interesting to see if Bender can continue his nice stretch of play against the smaller Rockets. Most of his big games this year have come against traditional bigs (Karl-Anthony Towns, Julius Randle, etc.). Rarely has Bender been able to make an impact at the 4 against a player like Tucker. We could see the Suns switch more tonight, especially if Richaun Holmes ends up playing.
Finally, the big story coming into this one is Jackson. The Rockets are a legitimate test to see how real his late-season improvements are. Watching him defend Gordon and run the offense will be very interesting as we think about his place on the team next year.
Prediction: You remember the Suns have only won 18 of these this year, right? Very few have come against good teams at full strength and full focus. I don’t expect it to happen this time.
Rockets 130, Suns 110