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Game Preview: Booker’s Suns at Kelly Olynyk’s Rockets

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The Suns need one more win to top last year’s win total (34).

New Orleans Pelicans v Houston Rockets Photo by Troy Fields/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (34-14) at Houston Rockets (13-36)

When: Monday, 5:00PM AZ Time

Where: Houston

Watch: Bally Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


The Phoenix Suns attempt to tie their longest win streak of the season (6) against the struggling Houston Rockets on Monday. On Friday, the Suns set a 53-year franchise record by winning a quarter by 30 points (43-13 first quarter) while setting a season high with 140 points against what amounts to the third string of the tanking, injured Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Rockets, who recently broke a 20-game losing streak, have lost 26 of their last 28 games. They’ve got a singular young talent who puts up good stats but might not be a winner (Christian Wood) and a bunch a flotsam around him. That’s pure, unadulterated copying of 2016-18 Suns and in some ways we should feel slighted. After adding Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley at the trade deadline for a dogging-it Victor Oladipo, the Rockets have been more competitive lately and are probably due for a win though, so the Suns had better stay focused.

Probable Starters

Rockets Update

For the third time this season, the Rockets look like a new but much worse team.

Such is life when your superstar dogs his way into a trade, followed by his replacement dogging his way into his own trade. Now James Harden is an MVP candidate in Brooklyn and Victor Oladipo is trying harder than he has in years for Miami, and the Rockets are left with... not much.

The total haul for James Harden now: Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk (role players who are both free agents this summer) and Brooklyn’s unprotected first round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, plus a few unlikely pick swap opportunities if the following teams finish worse than the Rockets (2021 with Brooklyn, 2022 with Miami, 2023 with Brooklyn, 2025 with Brooklyn or OKC).

On paper, that sounds like a lot but it’s very likely not much at all for a guy who might win the MVP and a Championship in Brooklyn. Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are all still in their prime, and the Nets are the East favorite for years to come. The likeliest return for Harden is three 20-something first round picks.

Oh, and the best/worst part is that the Rockets still owe some outgoing picks to the Thunder for taking Chris Paul off their hands in 2019. Houston owes OKC all three of their 2021, 2024 and 2026 picks to OKC, as long as they are outside the Top 4.

Suns Update

The Suns starting lineup of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton leads the league in minutes played together (525 minutes) and are second only to the Jazz starters in number of games together (39).

It’s a good thing they’re figuring out how to succeed as a group! After starting off the season poorly, they are now one of the best groups in the league.

  • December 2020 — 3rd in minutes, net rating: -1.8
  • January 2021 — 15th in minutes, net rating: -5.0
  • February 2021 — 34th in minutes, net rating: -14.8
  • March 2021 — 1st in minutes (240), net rating: +12.8

Clearly, the ideal Suns starting unit for a playoff series has figured out how to play together and that’s the most important possible news coming out of March.

They scuffled for a while in overall impact. Whether it was Booker and Paul trying to find their balance as lead ball handler, or Jae and Mikal trying to find their spots off-ball to make a difference, or Deandre Ayton’s up and down season, that starting unit needed time to gel.

Fun fact: Swapping Jae with Frank Kaminsky for most of February produced a +13.1 net rating with the 6th most minutes in the league. Maybe Monty wasn’t so daft in changing up the starting lineup for a bit there.

Not to give Frank too much credit for this excellent Suns season, but the facts are that since giving Frank his first start the Suns have 23 wins against only 5 losses. Oh, Frank didn’t start all those games, or even play a big role in more than a handful of them. Heck, he hasn’t even taken off his warmups in the past eight games. But the numbers are the numbers. The Suns found their rhythm once Frank helped unclog the passing lanes. Never forget the Frank-nado triple double watch of 2021.

The latest Sun to get dusted off and thrown into the rotation is one of the Bubble heros, Jevon Carter. The bulldog had played more than 12 minutes only twice in the past two months, but got back-to-back solid runs of 12:46 and 25:37 the last two games. He still hasn’t found his in-game shooting stroke, but his defense is always fun to watch.

On Friday, he got a back-court steal and fast break finish off of former teammate Ty Jerome of the Thunder.

“I wasn’t really paying too much attention to that,” Carter said later, when asked if took note of the steal being against Ty. “Just happy to be back out there and trying to do my thing.”

Free Throws

Two items to note:

  • Chris Paul is about to reach another passing milestone. A few days ago he recorded his 10,000th assist. Now, the next time he gets 10+ assists in a game will be his 500th — just the 5th player in NBA history to do so.
  • The Rockets have a familiar face on their sideline in assistant coach Jeff Hornacek, the Suns last Coach of the Month winner, Coach of the Year candidate (2nd to Pop in 2014) and the last coach to lead the Suns to more than 34 wins in a season. Monty needs the Suns to go 15-9 or better the rest of the way to top Hornacek’s 48 wins in 2013-14.

Prediction

I mean, it’s got to be the Suns winning this game right?