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Suns Hold Off Harden, Late Rockets Run
By: Stefan Swiat, Suns.comComing into Saturday’s contest, the Rockets boasted the top offense in the league. But on Noche Latina, it was the Suns that were en fuego on offense.
Shooting a sizzling 44 percent from behind the arc on the night, the Suns captured a 107-105 victory in front of a raucous home crowd.
In the first half, the Suns’ bench seized the momentum, outscoring the Rockets’ reserves by 20. In the second quarter, Phoenix’s second unit unleashed a 16-0 run that put the Suns up 10 with 4:44 left in the half. Swingman Jared Dudley scored 11 of his 15 first-half points in the period.
He drilled 6-of-8 of his shots from the floor and 2-of-3 from behind the arc. JD finished with a team-high 22 points a night, his best effort of the season off the bench.
“I think the biggest thing for me was rhythm,” Dudley said. “It was the first time in a long time that I was out on the court for a long period of time and without any quick subs. That kind of got my rhythm going.”
On the night, the Suns bench outscored the Rockets’ second unit by 15.
“I just think we got deflections and got them to turn the ball over,” Dudley said of the reserves’ effort. “We got into transition. We’ve been a poor transition team on offense, but tonight we were perfect.”
But to close out the game, it was all Goran Dragic. The Suns point guard reminded the Rockets what they were missing when they didn’t re-sign him this summer.
The 6-3 playmaker scored in variety of ways, notching 13 of his 18 points in final period to seal the win.
“I wanted to win this game so badly because I already played for Houston,” Dragic said. “In the end I was more aggressive and I just wanted to make some plays. And I just tried to be huge in the fourth quarter.”
After averaging just 84.4 points in five home games and posting four sub-90-point performances, the 107-point output was warmly welcomed. And against the second-best fast-breaking team in the league, the Suns gave the Rockets a dose of their own medicine, outscoring Houston 32-14 on the break.
“The key on the fast break is to give it up to get it back,” Dudley said. “You want to be able to get a foul called, attack the basket or an open shot. Sometimes we may act a little selfishly and not make the right play, but today we did a great job on that.”
Markieff Morris recorded his fourth double-digit scoring effort in eight games by totaling 14 points, while Michael Beasley chipped in 10 points off the bench. The Suns also took control on the glass, outrebounding Houston by eight.
Reserve center Hamed Haddadi grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds and P.J. Tucker corralled a career-high-tying 10 boards. Haddadi, a 7-2 center, also added six points and three blocks.
The Suns moved to 4-2 in their last six games, including a 5-5 record since the All-Star break. It was also their third-straight victory over the Rockets, who are currently seventh in the Western Conference.
Phoenix hosts Denver on Monday.
With Suns starting center Marcin Gortat sidelined with a sprained arch, Suns Head Coach Lindsey Hunter was forced to alter the starting lineup. In fact, he used the opportunity to completely overhaul the starting five.
Besides moving Luis Scola from starting power forward to starting center, Markieff Morris was inserted into the starting lineup along with his brother, Marcus. Against the Kings on Friday, it was the first time in history a pair of twins started together, with Marcus playing at small forward and Markieff manning the power forward position.
Swingman Wes Johnson also got the starting call at shooting guard. It was his first start as a Sun.
“They played pretty well together,” Hunter said. “I think their length on the perimeter was really good. And they all can defend multiple positions, and I think overall they can rebound well as a unit.”
Two Heads Better Than One
It’s not surprising to see the Morris twins benefitting from each other’s presence. Thus far, Markieff has scored eight or more points in seven of eight games since Marcus’ arrival.
Up until that point, he had accomplished that feat just twice in 12 contests. And it’s also having an effect on Marcus.
He had scored in double figures in four-straight games for the first time since a career-high five-game streak in December of 2012.
“It’s quite noticeable (how much better Markieff is playing with Marcus in Phoenix),” Hunter said. “Just his mood all around is better. So I think that affects him out on the court.”
Although Hunter notices their chemistry on the court, he doesn’t necessarily believe he needs to play them together to reap the rewards of them both being Suns.
Although this was the first time the Suns faced the Rockets this season, it certainly won’t be their last. Phoenix and Houston will meet four times in 36 days to close the 2012-13 season.
The two clubs next clash on March 13 in Houston, followed by April 9 in Houston and April 15 in Phoenix. The game on April 15 will be the final home game of the season.
Not only will the teams be familiar with each other in terms of scheduling, but also because of personnel. Three Suns starters are former Rockets.
Dragic, Scola and Marcus Morris all suited up for Houston last season.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Dragic said before the game. “I’m very grateful for everything that Houston did for me. But this is business.”
No More Streaking
Before sustaining a mid-foot sprain in his right foot on March 6, Marcin Gortat had started 138 consecutive games and had appeared in 182 consecutive games since being acquired by the Suns from Orlando. Gortat had not missed a single game as a member of the Suns and was the only Suns player to start every game this season before the injury.
He missed his first game as a Sun on Friday against the Kings in Sacramento, but showed up in the locker room before the Rockets game sporting his orange cast with purple stripes.
Currently, the Suns center is experiencing an extreme case of cabin fever due to this injury. In order to keep himself occupied, he’s taking extended naps and tweeting.
“I want to finish the season playing,” Gortat said. “The doctor is more optimistic than before. I think I’ll be playing in three weeks.”
Hamed Haddadi, a 7-2 center, became an instant fan favorite after contributing six points, 11 boards and three blocks in 28 minutes Saturday. Haddadi had played no more than 16 minutes in a game this season before tonight.
However, with the absence of centers Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O’Neal, Haddadi’s number was called.
And he responded, making his presence felt in the paint.
“Before, after the first mistake, they would take me out,” Haddadi said of his time in Memphis. “Here, after my first mistake, they didn’t take me out.
“I was feeling good. I never played four quarters or 30 minutes. The most minutes I ever played was 18-19 minutes.”
Rockets players were certainly affected by his length near the basket. Besides blocking three shots, Haddadi altered several others.
“In practice we’ve seen him do this,” Dudley said. “He’s been getting blocks, keeping the ball alive, he seals down low so you can drive and penetrate.”
JD went on to say jokingly, “He’s better than what he looks.”
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