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Suns burn Rockets 129-113

Gordon, Durant, Booker Too Much

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets
It may be “Break Glass” time.
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA schedule makers have just been so much fun this season. Playing Denver every game for a week, getting four days off, then five in seven, what larks! Tonight was a fun one, too.

So how about you play the team that leads the NBA in offense, not just this year, but historically, on one night. Then the next night you can face the Phoenix Suns, another all offense team looking to hit .500.

The Rockets have been looking pretty leggy, and despite digging out a back to back road win against the Pelicans, this stretch didn’t look good. The Rockets might well have defeated the Pacers, who came nowhere near 140 points, except they shot 5-24 on three point attempts while Indiana went 19-43. There’s more, but the Rockets being in that game at all revolved around forcing turnovers, and grabbing offensive rebounds. If the Rockets merely shot 35% from three point range, they’d have likely won.

That wouldn’t have saved them tonight, though.

The Rockets came out lethargic, while former Rocket Eric Gordon started out shooting the flaming basketball from NBA Jam. Gordon obviously wanted to put on a good showing for his video tribute night, and he did, going 10-15 overall, and 7-11 from three point range for 27 points. He also notched an assist. If the Suns pretended Bradley Beal didn’t exist and just ran with Gordon, they’d probably be better. But we’re not here to worry about the Suns.

Though worry the Rockets did, exploring a high effort, and distinctly low-payoff strategy early of literally helping off everyone to try to stop Devin “Neymar” Booker and Kevin Durant. This worked in the sense that Grayson Allen got to look good, with no one really defending him, and Eric Gordon feasted, but Booker only scored 20pts. However Durant did both score, and notch a robust 16 assists, as he instantly passed off the help on him to open shooters, cutters, etc. He also scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Trying this strategy without the Rockets best defender, Dillon Brooks seemed like a bad idea, and it was. Nobody on the Rockets recovers off help faster, and more intelligently, than Brooks. Later in the game Jabari Smith Jr got hurt on what we’re hoping is a mild ankle sprain, and not something much worse. That made the defensive plan simply ridiculous.

Without Brooks and Smith, Sengun was exposed, and open to attack in a fashion reminiscent of 2022-23.

Oddly enough, the Rockets did shoot it well, with a partial return to effectiveness from Jalen Green, 8-20, but 6-12 from 3pt range for 23/5/3/1 in 26 minutes, a big part of that. Overall the Rockets shot 17-41 from 3pt range, the kind of effectiveness and volume that would have spelt a win last night, did little tonight.

Alperen Sengun put up good numbers on the scoresheet, but looked tired, and slow, tonight. The fact that teams are figuring out that they don’t really need to run a center against Jeff Green, and can just send in all their true bigs to bash Sengun and hope it isn’t called is a new, but real, issue in my opinion. Alpie is overcoming it, but until Jock Landale is redeemed as a center, or for more valuable prizes, I suspect this “Bash An Alpie” strategy will continue, as Alpie put 8 fouls basically by himself on Jusuf Nurkic and Udoka Uzubuike in 29 minutes. Alpie finished 24/5/1/2, but the lack of rebounding and assists tells the tale for how opponents are defending the Rockets - Alpie first, worry about the others if they actually do something.

We did see some encouraging signs, as with Brooks and Smith down, and the other Rockets looking lethargic, Cam Whitmore, Amen Thompson and Tari Eason got real minutes, and in Whitmore’s case, showed he might (as we’ve been screaming for weeks here) be a real 2nd unit scoring option.

Amen looks able to play, but right now isn’t making the right decisions when given time to decide. That’ll come, he’s a rookie, but with a big job, unlike “Cam Smash” which is a simpler role.

We also saw 12 useful, if slightly rubbish-timey minutes from Jock Landale. Perhaps the guy who looked like the ideal backup center is still in there somewhere. Or perhaps he just hates Phoenix now.

Anyhow, the schedule doesn’t get easier, as the team’s “homestand of horror” brings more likely pain as the Philadelphia 76ers come into town Friday on what Pat Beverley on his twitter account is calling the “Belt2Ass” tour, as they’re wearing opponents out. Despite being called “Day To Day” you just know Joel Embiid will find enough health to make some sort of point about Alperen Sengun.



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Great news! I’m recapping that one as well.