Phoenix couldn’t have asked for a better start to the post-All-Star break portion of the season. They’ve won three in a row, including a 21-point rout over the Spurs on Friday.
Their momentum, however, will be tested by a Houston team intent on rebounding from a loss to the Warriors that snapped an eight-game losing streak.
The Rockets and Suns have split their first two meetings this season. Who will win with former Phoenix star Kevin Johnson on hand? We’ve got five things to watch.
Keep Up or Clamp Down?
The first two games between Phoenix and Houston couldn’t have gone more differently In Round 1, the Rockets were held to just 35 percent shooting and finished with just 88 points. Round 2 saw Houston hit 55 percent of their shots en route to 122 points and the win.
A middle ground is the more realistic outcome, but the closer Phoenix can come to Round 1, the better.
Channing Frye has been Mr. Dependable as the Suns’ floor-spreader from the power forward position. He’s hit at least one three-pointer in 15 consecutive games and well over 80 percent of his games this season.
That could come in handy against Dwight Howard should Head Coach Jeff Hornacek try to draw him out of the paint, freeing up Goran Dragic and others to invade the lane.
The Suns proved against Indiana – the league’s most intimidating defensive team – that they can be successful attacking the basket regardless of the initial defense.
Such fearlessness will be needed again against the Rockets, who rank third in the league in blocks but are a middle-of-the-pack defensive team overall (101.5 points per game for their opponents).
Dwight Howard dominated Phoenix in the paint last time, but what really hurt the Suns was Houston’s damage from beyond the arc. The Rockets hit 11-of-16 from downtown, an efficiency Phoenix (8-of-30) couldn’t match.
Hornacek has stressed in the past the need to avoid overreacting when a star player gets on a roll. If the Suns can remember that, they’ll be able to better withstand the likes of Howard and/or James Harden.
KJ in the House
It’s not often a spectator is mentioned in these game previews, but Kevin Johnson presents a worthy exception to the rule. The reaction he’ll likely receive from the home fans could very well prove contagious to both the team and Johnson’s old teammate, Head Coach Jeff Hornacek.
Such an impact won’t be measured in the box score, but it will be noticed if and when it shows up on the court.
It’s never a good idea to miss a Suns game, but it’s doubly dubious when a quality opponent (Houston) and Kevin Johnson (KJ Dunk Night) are in town.