Following Tuesdsay night’s home loss to Chicago, the Suns were disappointed. Frustrated. Even irritated.
Ideally, Phoenix will take out those emotions on the Rockets tonight, though they’ll need to forget Tuesday’s setback and the turnaround flight (they arrived in Houston at 3:00 a.m.) in order to do so.
The last meeting between the two teams went the Suns’ way, as Phoenix won 97-88. That game, played in early December, was also in Houston.
Here are five factors that will determine whether a similar outcome prevails.
Phoenix suffered just two losses over their last nine games. The common thread between them: turnovers. Those two contests marked the only time in that stretch the Suns committed more than 20 miscues in that stretch. Coincidentally, they’re also the only times they failed to score more than 100 points.
The Suns can ill afford a repeat let-down in that regard, particularly against Houston. The Rockets rank fifth in the league in fast break points.
James Harden is the seventh-best scorer in the league, but he heard a lot more about P.J. Tucker’s ability to shut him down after the December meeting between these two teams. The Rockets’ star guard shot a woeful 3-of-17 from the field on his way to 14 points, 10 fewer than his season average.
Elite scorers usually take offense at the insinuation they were “stopped” or “contained” by any one player. Harden will undoubtedly want to quiet the references to that game and Tucker’s defense.
Consequently, P.J. Tucker will need to be ready to match Harden’s intensity early and often.
Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek repeatedly stresses the need for “everyone to play well.”
Gerald Green has been missing lately, and Phoenix can ill afford the absence of their third-leading scorer. The veteran swingman has totaled just 10 points over the last two games and shot 29.4 percent over the last three.
The Suns’ success before Tuesday’s loss was thanks in large part to Green coming near to matching Dragic’s production in the backcourt. Phoenix needs a least a partial return to that scenario if they want to bounce back.
The Rockets are a top-five scoring team, but they’re bottom-five when it comes to there-point accuracy. That’s due largely to the number of volume-shooters on the team, players who get their numbers but need an inordinate amount of shots to do so.
Houston boasts six different players who attempt at least three three-pointers per contest. Those who make the most (James Harden, Patrick Beverley) are among the worst (32.3 and 32.6 percent respectively) from long-distance on the team.
If Phoenix can contest threes without over-committing or falling for fakes on defense, they’ll position themselves well to again limit the Rockets’ offense.
The Suns have led the league in fast break points all season, but that production has dipped by a significant amount over the last two weeks.
Phoenix had been getting 20 easy points in transition per contest, but that number has dipped by 25 percent (down to 15) over the Suns’ last seven games.
Those points are crucial, particularly on nights when the Suns’ half-court offense isn’t flowing or shots simply aren’t falling.