After getting handily beat by the Warriors for the second time in the past week, the Rockets get no favors from the schedule makers as they travel to Phoenix to take on the 8th-placed Suns team that has gone 8-2 in their last 10 games.
The Western Conference playoff race is insane. The 8th seeded Suns are only 5.5 games behind the 2nd seeded Trail Blazers while in the East there are 10.5 games separating the 2nd and 8th seeds. Not only that, but the top 9 teams in the West could all viably compete for a championship, which can only be said for 5 teams in the East. Basically, the West isn't a joke and this matchup against the Suns isn't either.
The Rockets need this win. They need this win badly. The 4 teams beneath them in the standings are all on impressive winning streaks. If the Rockets lose tonight they are susceptible to falling all the way to the 7th seed after being the 4th at the beginning of the week.
Enough of me worrying about the standings, let's get to the match ups.
Tip off is at 8pm CST.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Goran Dragic
I'm going to refrain from talking about whether or not Goran is the missing piece of this Rockets team and focus on his performance this year and the matchup at hand, frankly because it's an over-discussed topic. You either want Dragic or you don't.
After a slow start to the season, Goran seems to finally be figuring out how to play alongside 2 other point guards in Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. Over his last 4 games he's averaging just a sliver under 20 points a game while shooting very well from the field. Patrick Beverley will have his hands full as he tries to slow down one of the hottest point guards in the league right now.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Eric Bledsoe
I hope y'all were able to check out the Suns and Trail Blazers game from Wednesday night because Bledsoe was on fire. He had 33 points on 50% shooting and got to the line 15 times. 15 TIMES! He also added 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals along with the points. Bledsoe is a do it all combo guard, as you can tell by the stats, he does a bit of everything. What may be his greatest strength is his defense. This was a guy who was talked about being one of the best defensive point guards back when he was with the Clippers. He's going to give Harden hell defensively, hopefully he'll be up to the task.
James Harden is a maniac. Despite the Warriors success, in my opinion Harden has been the best player in the league this year. He's gone on hot streaks that are baffling and he's on one right now. He had 45 against the Pacers (which was incredible to watch in person) and 33 against the Warriors on Wednesday on 8 made shots. He'll look to keep up his hot streak tonight in a big game against the Suns.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. PJ Tucker
PJ Tucker is the Suns' glue guy, he rebounds the ball, shoots the 3 well, and plays very good defense. He's not much of an offensive force outside of his shot though, so his main task this game will be to hit his open looks and defend Harden and Ariza.
Speaking of making open 3s, someone who hasn't been doing that is Trevor Ariza. Check out more about his poor shooting in this fantastic article by MohamedHoops.
Advantage: Rockets (kinda)
Power Forward: Donatas Motiejunas vs. Markieff Morris
Markieff got a pretty healthy contract extension this last summer and it has been paying off dividends for the Suns. He has not only provided good scoring inside the arc, but outside the arc as well as a floor spacer. His diversity gives the Suns a lot of different options on offense as they place him all over the court. He is also capable of taking over a game with his scoring, as he did against the Cavaliers when he scored 35 points. Look for him to drag Donatas outside of the paint (where he has been amazing defending the rim) and allow for the Suns to have better looks on their drives.
I feel like this is an "FU" type of game for Donatas. He had to sit behind Marcus Morris for the longest time and never got a consistent chance because of it. He probably can't tell the difference between Markieff and Marcus, so let's hope that he thinks it's Marcus out there the whole time and hook shots his way to 20 tonight.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. Alex Len
Dwight Howard should have a field day with Len tonight. This is a guy who has only started 22 games in his whole career against one of the most dominant centers of the past 10 years. I don't think I need to say more.
Rockets: The JET, Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Joey Dorsey, Kostas Papanikolaou
Suns: Isaiah Thomas, Brandon Wright, Gerald Green, Marcus Morris, Miles Plumlee