Though the architect of their high-scoring ways left over the summer, the Phoenix Suns are doing a fine job living up to their reputation as one of the NBA's best offensive teams.
The Houston Rockets, on the other hand, haven't delivered on their billing as one of the league's top defensive clubs despite an offseason move designed to strengthen them in that area.
The Suns look to take advantage of the struggling Rockets on Wednesday night when the teams meet in Phoenix.
The Suns have been one of the league's three highest-scoring teams in each of the last four seasons. Coach Mike D'Antoni installed the up-tempo offensive system that made it possible, but Phoenix hasn't let up despite D'Antoni's departure to take over the New York Knicks in the offseason.
The Suns (6-2) are near the top of the league in scoring with 103.3 points per game and field-goal percentage at 51.5. They won their second straight Monday night, getting a season-high 27 points and 10-for-13 shooting from reserve Leandro Barbosa in a 107-102 win over Memphis.
"It was the first time that I was doing well and I felt like I could go to the basket and I could shoot," said Barbosa, who averaged 7.6 points and shot 34.0 percent from the field in the first seven games. "My teammates were helping me and the coach was helping me, too, and it was great."
While Phoenix has consistently played to its strengths in the new season, the same can't be said for Houston (4-3). The defensive-minded Rockets have ranked in the top five in opponents' scoring and in the top two in field-goal percentage defense in each of the last five seasons.
Despite an offseason trade for Ron Artest, a former Defensive Player of the Year who was second in the NBA in steals per game in each of the last two seasons, the Rockets haven't found their rhythm defensively in 2008-09.
Houston is in the middle of the pack in field-goal percentage defense at 44.8, and though it has held opponents to 92.6 points per game, that figure has been bolstered by victories over Memphis, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers - teams that are a combined 5-17.
The Rockets have given up an average of 104.3 points in their other four games, including a season-high point total in a 111-82 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.
"You have to play as a team and we did not play as a team," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "We are better than that, but we have to find answers. You have to work a little harder. You can't do it on your own. We have a lot of work to do. I don't know what else to say."
Houston didn't only struggle on the defensive end Sunday. It shot 37.8 percent from the field - the fourth time in seven games it has been held under 40.0 percent. Artest was 2-for-11 and Tracy McGrady missed 10 of 11 shots.
"I just couldn't get any rhythm," said McGrady, a two-time scoring champion who's 1-for-16 in his last two games. "These were probably the worst two games of my career. But when you play a long time in this league, you're going to have some games like that. Unfortunately, I had two in a row. But it's a long season."
The Rockets and Suns split four meetings last season with each team winning once at US Airways Center. McGrady averaged 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists in three games against Phoenix, while the Suns' Amare Stoudemire averaged 30.3 points and 11.5 boards while shooting 60.0 percent in the series.
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