At least, that’s how the Rockets have to treat this game.
The Suns sit at 19-61 and are guaranteed to be one of three worst teams in the NBA this season, giving them a 14% chance of landing the top pick in the NBA draft for the second straight season. They have a better than 50% of landing in the top 3, which would get them Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, or Ja Morant, probably.
This game is huge for Houston because it will keep the pressure on Denver and Portland. As you’ve probably seen by now, the Nuggets are resting their players tomorrow in Portland. With the Clippers losing to the Lakers on Friday night, Utah is now basically locked into the fifth seed in the West. That means that Denver’s toughest remaining game (at Utah on Tuesday) will probably feature the Jazz B team. So Denver is rolling over for Portland so that the Blazers have a chance to pass Houston for third place so Denver can keep Houston and Golden State far away from them until the Western Conference Finals, ideally.
Obviously, Houston can do nothing about how Denver, Utah, or Portland treat their final few games. The one thing Houston can control is their own fate. If the Rockets beat Phoenix tonight and Oklahoma City on Tuesday, they are guaranteed the third spot in the West at worst. If Houston loses one of those games, they are almost certainly going to fall to fourth place because Portland and Denver will probably win out (after Denver loses tonight) with their easy closing schedules.
Houston needs to take Phoenix seriously and try to end the game as quickly as possible. The last thing the Rockets need is an injury, and much like the New York game it’s going to be important for Mike D’Antoni (or Jeff Bzdelik if MDA is still sick) to get the starters out when possible.
Phoenix is coming off an OT win against the Pelicans in which Dragan Bender had 11 points, ten rebounds, six assists, and seven blocks. Josh Jackson had 35 points on 15-29 shooting and zero FTs, which means he’s not a cancer to the game of basketball. He also had nine boards and five assists. Houston will also probably play against their former draft pick, De’Anthony Melton, whom they traded in the offseason to unload Ryan Anderson’s contract. The former USC Trojan has played 48 games this season and started 31, but he has not played against Houston yet.
Tip-off is at 6pm CT on NBA TV