If the Houston Rockets played their best and worst games of the season one after the other, what does that mean for the next game? That’s the big question for a team that seems to have more trouble with worse teams. With Jeremy Lin still out, with Chandler Parsons still fighting through back spasms and with the team either unwilling or unable to cement their team defense, this visit by the Phoenix Suns is looming larger than it should. Will the Rockets sink into frustration or will Phoenix pay for what happened to the Rockets in Utah?
The Suns may have some avenging of their own to do. Phoenix visits the Memphis Grizzlies the day before heading to Houston, and stands a very real chance of losing to both hungry Southwest division teams. After what might be a brutal showdown with a Grizzlies team desperate to put their season together yet again, a tired Suns might be just what the Rockets need to reassert themselves on both ends of the floor.
Of course, none of this is a guarantee in any way. The Suns sport a newly-acquired Eric Bledsoe, a young guard who’s already paying dividends for them. Ex-Rockets Goran Dragic, as the veteran point guard, is stewarding Bledsoe, and the two of them have been effective for Phoenix. The Suns aren’t afraid to give the young guys some burn, as that’s the majority of their team roster. With an amazing draft class on the horizon, the Suns are in a position where any outcome is positive. Wins mean that a young team is finding its way, and losses put them one step closer to a potentially franchise-changing player in the draft.
Why is this a problem for the Rockets? Because the Suns are yet another young team with nothing to lose and a lot to prove. observe, for example, how difficult it was for last year’s Rockets to beat a significantly worse Suns team.
It took a bizarre, once-in-a-lifetime goaltending call for the Rockets to sneak by the Suns, a team which played them tight all season. Young, energetic teams who shoot at will and run simple, pick and roll offense seem to stymie Houston. The Utah Jazz were merely the most recent example of this bugaboo. How can the Rockets make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again? Tomorrow, they may not have to.
Teams on the second night of a back to back have a tendency to miss more shots than usual, something which plagued Houston last season. The Rockets are prone to letting shooters get open on the perimeter, something which might not hurt them as much as ususal. The other, more important factor is that the Rockets are far more talented. They may be inconsistent with their defensive (and sometimes offensive) effort, but they still have an above-average defensive efficiency. Dwight Howard might not be used optimally on offense, but the offensive efficiency is a mere hair behind the league leader, the Miami Heat.
The Rockets are, without a doubt, the better team. What they may not be, however, is the more focused team. If they react like the San Antonio Spurs and take out their frustrations after a loss by playing even harder, all will be well. James Harden and Dwight Howard should be able to shred the Suns with pick and rolls and get things back on track. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, teams sometimes become dispirited after a bad loss, and that’s the big threat against a tired Suns team.
TIp off is at 7:00 pm central time at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
For more Suns coverage, check out Valley of the Suns, the Phoenix Suns TrueHoop blog.