If you had told me that Houston would split the dreaded Denver/Utah back-to-back, I would have been ecstatic. Really, the only thing keeping the collective spirits up in Houston is the loss to the New Orleans Pelicans last week, which will probably sting for the rest of the season, especially if the standings stay this close down the stretch.
That makes tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns all the more important for Houston. The Suns have been the only team in the West not shooting for the playoffs (though they have been joined by a few others as the season has gone on) and therefore are a team that Houston has to beat.
The first question to ask when playing any teams in these Capela-less days is “Do they have a good big man?” Well, the Suns have one legitimate center and it’s the first overall pick from the 2018 draft, Deandre Ayton. He’s averaging 16/11 and if it weren’t for LukaMania, we would be hearing more about him this season. He’ll be trouble for Houston.
Former Rocket Ryan Anderson hasn’t played for the Suns in two full calendar months. He has appeared in 15 total contests and is shooting 21% from deep on the season. It would have been great if he had worked out for the Rockets, but his lack of confidence in his shooting stroke banished him out of the rotation and then out of town. Ryno has a game that could still work in today’s NBA if he could just return to his 2016-17 form, but so far that seems unlikely. The Suns are trending younger and have plenty of players that they need to develop. Couple that with his huge contract and it’s hard to see him finding a home that will give him a chance anytime soon. Maybe next summer someone will take a flier on him. Maybe he gets a chance to play tonight for a revenge game.
Obviously, Devin Booker is the real highlight for the Suns. He’s been given more point guard responsibilities and is averaging 25/7 on the season. He’s a good passer and the Suns can absolutely get mileage out of him playing the James Harden role on offense. Booker and Harden aren’t super similar, but you can see what they are going for and it could pay big dividends moving forward. After all, Booker is just 22. The dude is good and he’s going to keep getting better.
Phoenix’s other first round draft pick from this season is Mikal Bridges, who played a big part in Villanova’s championship team last season. Bridges is averaging 18 points on 68% shooting over his last three games in what is easily his best stretch of the season, so his confidence is high right now.
Josh Jackson stepped away from acting to become an NBA player and has been playing well lately. He’s proving that he can score in bunches at the NBA level but is still too inconsistent. He turns 22 next week so he’s another guy with time to develop. He dropped 25 on the Hawks on 10-15 shooting the other night so he’s another guy feeling himself right now.
Oh, and this is what happened the last time these teams met:
Tip-off is at 8pm CT