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Houston Rockets vs. Phoenix Suns game preview

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The Rockets look to avenge an early-season loss to the Suns tonight when Phoenix visits Houston.

Chillin' like a villain.
Chillin' like a villain.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

How much does revenge factor into a player's game-day routine?

I know that as a Rockets fan, I've had this game circled on my calendar since we first lost to the Suns. It felt like a fluke game, with Harden playing poorly and the Parsons-Lin love connection out with injuries. I don't care how they do it; I just want to see the Rockets get revenge on the Suns.

But we've learned a lot about the Rockets and Suns since that game. The Suns won that game to climb to 10-9 on the season. The Rockets loss dropped them to 13-7. Since that time, both teams have played about even. The Suns have proven that they're a legitimate playoff team, with wins over Golden State, Dallas, the Clippers, and the Pacers twice. This is a really good basketball team, and they're doing it without Eric Bledsoe, who was supposed to be their James Harden.

So I ask again, do you think the Rockets are looking at this as revenge?

Are they looking at this as the 5-seed against the 6-seed?

Do they see the Clippers without Chris Paul for another week and Portland coming back to Earth and think, "We can make a run now?"

Or do they look behind them and see Golden State, Dallas, Memphis, Denver, and Minny closing in fast?

More than anything, the Rockets have to look right in front of them tonight, because the Suns are for real.

And because we all need something to pump us up after three days off:

1995 NBA WC Semifinals - Rockets @ Suns - Game 7 NBC Intro (via coolbluemoon)

Tip off is at 7pm CST.

Matchups:

Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Goran Dragic

I remember watching Goran Dragic when he was with the Rockets and thinking, "This guy only goes left. That's all he ever does. Hopefully no one else notices."

No one else has.

And as long as they don't Dragic will go left on you all the way to the bank.

Advantage: Suns

Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Gerald Green

Looking at the box score from the first game is not for the faint of heart. No player for the Rockets shot 50%. Usually one guy goes 1-2 and you can go, "At least someone shot 50%!" But you can't.

There's plenty of ugly on that stat sheet, especially when comparing it to Phoenix.

22 turnovers. Yuck.

35% from the field and 29% from three, compared to Phoenix's 46% from both the field and the three.

1 block to Phoenix's 6.

21 offensive rebounds, and the Rockets still lost.

The Rockets shot 17-19 from the free throw line. While that's a great percentage, that's not nearly enough free throws for a Houston team that lives at the line.

But the ugliest of all marks is James Harden's stat line.

14 points, 3-17 shooting, 0-10 from 3, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 turnovers, 41 minutes, -20.

On a night where the Rockets were without Parsons and Lin, Harden didn't show up. In fact, he was downright shut down by PJ Tucker, who has since become regarded as an excellent wing defender.

Basically, I expect Harden to come out with a passion. If there's one player who's getting his tonight, it's this guy.

Advantage: Rockets

Small Forward: Chandler Parsons vs. P.J. Tucker

Parsons wasn't here last time.

Tucker made James Harden look like Austin Rivers.

They won't guard each other most likely, so the key is the cross-match. If Tucker is on Harden and Harden is on Tucker, that makes Parsons-Green an incredibly fun opportunity. Parsons is bigger and stronger with a more balanced offensive game. But Green has become a dependable shooter and can still jump out of the gym.

Advantage: Rockets

Power Forward: Terrence Jones vs. Channing Frye

We all know who Channing Frye is. He's going to make three pointers in your face all night because he's longer than most opposing fours.

So Terrence Jones will have to attack him on offense and not foul him on defense. Making him work will likely net you the reward of the Morris twins, who play a different style and can beat you in a number of ways.

Oh, what a joy it must be to be Terrence Jones tonight. Dude is going to get plenty of sleep after the game.

Advantage: Even

Center: Dwight Howard vs. Miles Plumlee

The hidden jewel in the Green-Scola swap, Plumlee is averaging 10/9.

Dwight Howard has to dominate him. The Rockets need this matchup to go their way in a big way.

Advantage: Rockets

Bench

Rockets: Jeremy Lin, Omri Casspi, Greg Smith (maybe), Donatas Motiejunas

Suns: Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Alex Len, Ish Smith, Archie Goodwin, Leandro Barbosa, Dionte Christmas

Advantage: Suns

Prediction: Rockets win 108-101.

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