When: Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 5:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR
Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Phoenix
In the second game with a new starting lineup that included Wesley Johnson and the Morris twins the Suns stunned the Houston Rockets 107-105 despite a preternatural performance by James Harden. Harden finished with 38 points on 11-17 shooting, including seven three pointers, while distributing eight assists, but also committed eight out of 21 total team turnovers that led to 28 points for Phoenix.
Jared Dudley led the Suns with 22 points and seven assists, but it was Goran Dragic's 13 points in the fourth quarter that helped the Suns overcome 19 three point field goals by the Rockets in the game.
Houston Rockets: 34-30
Points per game: 106.8 (1st) Points allowed: 103.6 (29th)
Rockets are fast. The Rockets are fast. Houston pushes the pace to the tune of a league leading 106.8 points per game. More shots equal more assists and more rebounds as well, and the Rockets are also top 10 in those categories. Houston has hovered around .500 all year, so their recent stretch of 3-4 is fairly reflective of their season to date.
James Harden has blossomed into a quintessential star since arriving in Houston, quelling doubts that he was better suited as a secondary player. He has led both teams in scoring in exactly half (32) of Houston's games this season. He has the distinction of being the only player in the league in the top five in scoring (26.4) and steals (1.9). Omer Asik tows the line inside and is second in the league in rebounding at 11.8 per game.
The Rockets are 20-9 at home and ensnarled in a battle to make the playoffs, so expect a valiant effort in front of an obstreperous home crowd.
Phoenix Suns: 22-42
Points per game: 94.6 (20th) Points allowed: 100.3 (21st)
The renascent Suns are 4-3 in their last seven games, much to the befuddlement and vexation of a faction of their fans. While the inspired play of precocious players on the roster is very encouraging moving forward it also provides a dilemma for the rooting interest of their faithful fans. Coaches coach. Players play. The effort has been apparent and the wins and losses take care of themselves.
A lineup in tumult has provided a spark of interest lately, as Wesley Johnson, the twins and Hamed Haddadi are all playing integral roles. The Suns will need solid performances from these players to overcome a Rockets team that is in a melee for playoff seeding. While the Suns are only 7-25 on the road, they have had impressive victories over the Bulls, Grizzlies and (most recently) Spurs. However, it is somewhat apocryphal logic to think that the Rockets won't be jacked to play the Suns tonight after Saturday's loss.
What To Watch For:
James Harden: He always seems to torch the Suns. Despite going for 30, 40 and 38 points in the last three meetings, the Suns did manage to hold him to just 10 points in the game prior to his torrid streak. For some reason, though, I get the feeling that this is more about how Harden plays than how the Suns defend him.
Marcus Morris/Scola/Dragic: All three players return to Houston for the first time after being traded, amnestied and leaving in free agency. Suffice to say that the Rockets no longer desired their services. Look for vindication from this trio tonight. Morris has averaged 12.7 points while shooting 51% from the field and 52% from three his last six games. Dragic needs to bounce back after an unimpressive performance against the Nuggets following a 13 point fourth quarter against the Rockets and 17 points and 16 assists against the Kings. Hopefully Scola can break out of a recent shooting slump. The effort still appears to be there, evinced by his 13 rebounds (his third highest total of the season) against the Nuggets.
2013 Lottery Watch
The Suns are currently tied with Cleveland for sixth in the lottery standings. A loss tonight could move them as high as a tie for fourth. It would also help them keep the Rockets in front of the Lakers. The Wizards and Kings play at home tonight (against the Bucks and Bulls respectively) in winnable games which could help the Suns. The Timberwolves and Pistons play on the road against teams with winning records, which will very likely result in losses.
The Lakers, who have passed the Jazz and hold the eighth seed in the Western Conference, play at Atlanta tonight, so cheer for the Hawks to beat a Lakers team that is just 12-20 on the road this season. Utah, who is 2-7 in their last nine games, plays at OKC tonight, so don't expect much help there. In fact, Utah has been playing so poorly that the Mavericks are sneaking up on them for ninth.
The Lakers are actually playing for the sixth seed at this point, so hopefully Houston (who the Lakers now control their destiny against) and the Warriors can hold them off and give LA the best possible odds of getting knocked on their ass in the first round of the playoffs. Both the Rockets and Golden St. play exceedingly winnable games at home tonight.
The Final Word(s):
Will the Suns be emboldened by recent success? Are their fledging players too young and dumb to realize they shouldn't be able to compete in this game? Can they keep up with a Houston squad whose talent preponderates that of a Suns team mired in an underwhelming season?
I wouldn't count on it. But while this matchup seems heavily weighted in the Rockets advantage on paper, anything is possible. The Suns beat them just four days ago despite the juggernaut that is Harden having a dominant game and the Rockets had just as much on the line then. What I would forecast is an entertaining game with plenty of points as I expect the Rockets to impose their pace on the Suns.
Backup point guard Kendall Marshall was handed a rotation spot in early February and is slowly but surely playing with confidence.
"Earlier in the season, I tried to just do what was comfortable for me," Marshall acknowledged recently about the difference between now and two months ago. "But to help the team, I have to be able to step outside my comfort zone."
Kendall Marshall was taken 13th overall in the 2012 draft by GM Lance Blanks and his crew. Marshall began the "draft season" as college's highest assist man in a decade, the top-rated point guard and clear top-10 overall pick after leading North Carolina as a sophomore to a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
Despite concerns over Marshall's lack of athleticism and jump shot, Suns GM Lance Blanks and his scouting staff zeroed in on Kendall Marshall as one of their top options with the #13 overall pick. Marshall profiled as a tremendous floor leader, something the Suns would definitely need once they let Steve Nash go that summer.
Only 20 years old, Marshall struggled in summer league, preseason and later in D-League, fueling the fires of calling him a draft bust. He is still not even ranked in David Thorpe's weekly top-50 rookie rankings.
The passer extraordinaire logged fewer than 2 assists in 10 of his first 12 games. He took almost no shot attempts and was quick to dump the ball off to anyone who would take it once he crossed mid court.
But since he was handed a rotation spot on February 1 after the Suns had fallen completely out of the playoff picture, the now-21-year-old Marshall has dished at least two assists in 14 of the last 18 games (averaging 2.8 per game in 16 minutes). Modest totals to be sure. But progress is progress.
His best games have come against tough competition: in February against Memphis (11 points and 4 assists) and last Saturday against Houston (9 and 4).
"I think you saw him growing up a little bit tonight," said head coach Lindsey Hunter after the Houston game. Marshall had an eye-popping assist between the legs of Asik (see video below) and a running jumper to hold onto a fourth-quarter lead.
Modest stats, to be sure. But Marshall has gotten the respect of his teammates.
"I am always on the floor a lot of minutes," point guard Goran Dragic said of the Houston game. "Tonight Kendall played great, so I spent more minutes on the bench. I was happy for him."
"Kendall played a great game," Jared Dudley said. "I could play with him any day. He's always looking to pass. He has some deficiencies, but his passing makes up for it."
Ah yes, the deficiencies. Mainly, his
jump shot is so bad that he's afraid to take the shot even when he's open, and it's such a set shot he can't take it with a defender on him.
Marshall has scored more than 5 points in only 5 of 30 games this season. He has made only 40% of his shots this season, 33% of three-pointers. He has taken more three-point shots (36) than two-point shots (34), getting assisted on 92% of his threes.
"I know my jump shot is what it is," Marshall says. "It's just getting to the point of being comfortable enough to take that shot. It's repetition, every single day. One thing Lindsey [Hunter] told me is that I'm never allowed to take a day off."
On an off day, Marshall takes enough jumpers to make 300 a night. On practice days, its a minimum of 150 makes, with half of them off the dribble.
Sometimes, he even goes to the practice court to shoot after a game. "It's just to blow steam off," he said. "If I didn't shoot the ball well, or didn't shoot it confidently."
Lately, we are seeing Marshall stay on the court even after Dragic returns. Against Houston, Dragic played the off-guard position in the fourth while Marshall played the point. Dragic was able to attack and score, getting 15 of his 18 points in the 4th quarter alone.
Against Denver, it was often Dragic and Marshall playing together opposite Denver's two point guards, Andre Miller and Ty Lawson.
Marshall is aware of the comparisons of his game to Andre Miller's.
"We're both not the most athletic people in the world," he starts off about Miller, with a chuckle. "He's also an extremely talented passer and that's something I take pride in, running a team. Honestly, I was looking forward to playing against him, someone I watched growing up."
Marshall expanded on how Miller makes up for his lack of elite athleticism to remain a threat.
"You could see some of the tricks of the trade he's learned throughout the years," Marshall said. "He used them on me. Stuff that hopefully I can pick up and use in my own game.
Regarding a particular example, he replied without hesitation, "In the first half, in a pick and roll I was trying to push [Miller] to our big man who was sitting there waiting on him and all he did was, right before he curled off the screen, he's dribbling the ball, he bumps me, takes one dribble, pulls up and I can't contest it. When somebody bumps you, that takes your legs from you."
"Just little crafty stuff like that I want to learn from him."
What point guards in the NBA does Marshall want to emulate? "Andre Miller, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Jose Calderon," he replied quickly. "I feel like I can get the most out of myself if I can take bits and pieces out of their game."
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately lead to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way; however, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit.
Does anyone else get the sense that this would be better applied to the Suns' Saturday night victory against the Houston Rockets than it was after King Pyrrhus defeated the Romans at Heraclea and Asculum during the Pyrrhic War? How many more games can the Suns afford to win before they sabotage their draft status, which is (practically) the sole redeeming quality stemming from one of the worst seasons in franchise history?
Don't the Suns realize that sometimes when you lose, you really win?
Gloria Clemente tried to impress this upon Billy Hoyle in the legendary movie "White Men Can't Jump."
"Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose."
Billy, however, was recalcitrant and ended up losing Gloria. He won his small, petty victory and lost out on something of much greater importance in the long run. Sound familiar?
I want the Suns to lose. I want my team to lose. Every victory is like a nail in the coffin of our draft lottery positioning. I'm not cheering against my team, I'm cheering for them. I'm cheering for them to take a step back to take two forward. I'm cheering for something better than development of middling young players as a consequence of a lost season. I'm not advocating throwing games. In fact, I'm not advocating that the Suns deviate from the current strategy one iota.
I simply want them to lose.
Even after last night's 108-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Suns' four wins in their last seven games tie a season best for any seven game stretch this season. Talk about an inconvenient time for them to be playing their best basketball of the season. They even had their best win of the season, a 105-101 OT victory in San Antonio, during the stretch.
Lineups are in flux. In recent wins against the Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, and Atlanta Hawks, the Suns started Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, P.J. Tucker, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. Saturday night, they started Goran Dragic, Wesley Johnson, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Luis Scola. But they won. Kendall Marshall and Hamed Haddadi each played 28 minutes. Final score Suns 107, Rockets 105...
Starting center Marcin Gortat is out (most likely for the season) with a Lisfranc sprain. But they beat the Rockets. Backup center Jermaine O'Neal has missed games due to family issues. Yet they win.
You almost couldn't script a better scenario for the team to crumble to pieces, but they haven't. I don't know what Lindsey Hunter could do to lose more games even if he tried at this point. There's nobody else sitting on the end of the bench. Smilin' Wes is playing. The twins are starting. Some guy named Hamed who I didn't even know existed three weeks ago is logging heavy minutes. What can Hunter do? Start pulling players if they make a shot?
The Suns are within 1.5 games of third and within three games of eleventh in lottery positioning. The Suns still have two games against the Wizards (third) and the Timberwolves (ninth). They also host both the Hornets (T-sixth) and Kings (fifth). The Suns are presently tied with the Pelicans for sixth. Think some of those games might have draft order implications?
Not to mention they play the Rockets three more times and the Jazz and Warriors once each... And of course the Lakers. That's the game of paramount importance for the Suns to win, yet I wouldn't be surprised if they misinterpret my message and pick that game to lose.
If the Suns end up with the 10th and 30th picks, it will be nauseatingly unfulfilling. Yet, I sit nonplussed. In awe of a Utah Jazz team that is failing amazingly and catastrophically. Perturbed by a Lakers team hellbent on sneaking into the playoffs to cost the Suns up to 16 spots in draft positioning. In dread that the glimmering hope of a top five pick will fade into the gloaming of selecting in the double digits....
I have recently heard the term "crapshoot" bandied around with respect to the draft. Crapshoot - anything unpredictable, risky or problematical; a gamble. I guess that's applicable to a certain extent. However, the higher your lottery positioning, and ultimately your draft order, the better your odds in the gamble. This isn't suppositious conjecture. This is rooted in empirical evidence and data. Of course there are no guarantees, but as Seth Pollack detailed in this story where I participated with ten other NBA writers in ranking the quality of players selected with the top ten picks over the last five years, the odds are heavily stacked in favor of top five picks. So would you rather have a 28% chance of drafting a franchise player or a 0% chance?
Which is why losing isn't necessarily bad. In fact, it can be downright good. As Eddie Murphy instructed us in "Vampire In Brooklyn", things are not always as they seem...
"Well, the bottom line, what I'm trying to tell you today, is that losing... llllosing... is necessary. Losing is necessary, thereby, if it's necessary, losing... - Losing... - ...must be good."
I may have slightly augmented the previous quote to serve my nefarious needs, but I think you get the gist. At least I hope you get the gist, even if you disagree, because I've kind of been hammering the point and the story is almost over. Losing can be good. Losing can actually propagate long-term positive outcomes. I am actually a proponent of losing in certain situations. This year for the Suns is one of those situations.
In the immortal words of John Witherspoon in "Friday."
"You win some, you lose some... But you live, you live to fight another day!"
I know we'll get through this, Suns. I know we'll live to fight another day. But in the interim, please lose.