Defense Faces Stiff Test Against Rockets

NBAE/Getty Images

The Suns are coming off back-to-back, subpar defensive performances after allowing two of the bottom five offensive teams (Utah, Memphis) to shoot over 50 percent.

If Phoenix wants to turn things around right away, it will need to start against the highest-scoring team in the league.

The Rockets (109.1 ppg) are third in shooting percentage (48.8), first in free throw attempts (32.5 FTApg), and second in three-pointers made per game (10.3). They’re not bad on the other end of the floor, either, ranking third in blocks (6.6) and fifth in rebounds (46.1) per contest.

Dwight Howard (16.6 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg) is the big-name addition to this year’s squad. His presence has resulted in more open looks for jump shooters, including James Harden (24.5 ppg) and Chandler Parsons (17.2 ppg).

Despite those elite stats, the Rockets sit in fifth place in the Western Conference. There are times when their defense disappears, leading to lopsided losses. Houston has yielded 116.3 points per loss so far this season.

Key Matchup

James Harden is one of the few bigger, elite off-guards in the league, which will test the makeup of Phoenix’s smaller backcourt. Eric Bledsoe has a stronger build, but Goran Dragic boasts an extra two inches of height and has proven adept at fronting and frustrating two-guards who try to post him up.

Complicating matters is that small forward Chandler Parsons is also a threat offensively. Because of his 6-9 height, Phoenix will be unable to simply switch defensive stalwart P.J. Tucker onto Harden and leave Bledsoe/Dragic on Parsons.

Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek will need to decide quickly which defensive schemes and matchups work best if Harden gets hot early.

Opponent X-Factor

Houston’s fast-paced offense isn’t all good for them. The Rockets lead the league in turnovers per game (18.1), potential fuel for the Suns’ league-leading running game (19.7 fast break points per contest).

The Rockets’ miscues could snap the Suns out of their two-game funk, but forcing those turnovers with defense – a recent issue after an impressive start to the season – will be key in doing so.

Final Thought

Is Eric Bledsoe due a big game? The fourth-year guard poured in 19 points, six rebounds and three steals in his first game back from a shin injury, but has put up just 22 points on 8-of-22 shooting, seven assists and zero steals in the two games since.

Bledsoe tried to create momentum for Phoenix in the second half at Memphis, but the Suns couldn’t seem to get anything going under the weight of the Grizzlies’ unusual offensive surge.

Don’t be shocked if the Suns’ guard busts out in a big way tonight with so many Houston turnovers and subpar perimeter defenders available.