PHOENIX — Goran Dragic made a name for himself feasting on opposing bench units two years ago in US Airways Center. The Dragon returned to the scene of the crime Thursday and pulled the trick...

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Goran Dragic torched his former teammates with 11 points and 11 assists tonight.

The Phoenix Suns showed improvement tonight, playing an entertaining, back and forth game with the Houston Rockets, but the Rockets bench proved to be too much and the Suns fell short in the end, 96-89. Goran Dragic haunted his former team with 11 points and 11 assists, and provided a toughness and poise not always seen in his time in Phoenix, committing only 2 turnovers in 29 minutes of action.

All five of the Rockets bench players scored in double figures and all held a double digit + in +/- as they totaled a whopping 57 points in comparison to the 13 scored by the Suns bench. Michael Redd scored 11 of those Suns bench points.

Channing Frye led the Suns with 21 points and 10 rebounds, as he hit 4 of his 9 3-point attempts and looked aggressive from the start, and newly minted 2012 all-star Steve Nash scored 14 points to go with his 13 assists. Nash didn't miss a shot, going 7-7 from the field.

Improvement? Yes. But the Suns continue to be dogged by the same problems of inconsistent rebounding, spotty bench play and lack of late game offensive execution. All reared their ugly heads tonight.

Read on for more.....

The game started out in fine form for the Suns. Channing Frye and Grant Hill had success aggressively looking to score and tallied 15 of the Suns first 17 points, the highlight being a thunderous slam dunk by Frye that left most everyone asking, "who is that bad man in Channing Frye's jersey tonight?" Frye's performance was a night and day difference from his last game against the Rockets.

However, the Rockets controlled the boards early on, held a 5-1 offensive rebounding edge, and the Suns lead after 1 was only 29-26 before yet another disastrous second quarter.

How bad was the second quarter for the Suns? The Rockets bench dismantled the Suns bench 28-3 in the quarter. It was no contest. With Sebastian Telfair running the offense, there was no rhythm. All shots were created one-on-one, players looked lost. It was hard to discern what they were even attempting to accomplish on the offensive end. It was that bad.

Meanwhile, the Rockets hummed along just fine, with Patrick Patterson hitting baseline mid-range jumpers, Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee knocking down 3s, Jordan Hill cleaning the boards, all managed efficiently by backup PG Goran Dragic. To see Dragic look so composed and in control while Telfair struggled was painful for Suns fans to watch. Point guard play was hardly the only difference between these two teams' benches but it was an obviously noticeable one.

Nash and the starters returned with around 5 minutes to go in the half, restored some order, and the Rockets lead was only 10 going into halftime, 54-44. Then the second half started with a 16-3 run by the Suns, capped by a Jared Dudley 3-pointer to give them a 60-57 lead. Frye hit a 3, Redd hit a 3, Dudley hit another 3. After six 3s in the quarter by the Suns helped them to a 76-74 lead, it was time for.....gulp.... the bench to come back in.

Gentry didn't replace all five this time, and left Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye in the game for nearly the entire second half. Markieff Morris and Robin Lopez did not return. The fourth quarter featured five lead changes before the Rockets seized control for good with 5:47 remaining on a Budinger 3-pointer.

The Suns pulled as close as 92-89, but a poor Gortat pass was stolen by Kyle Lowry for an easy layup, and Gortat committed an offensive foul on the Suns next possession. Between ineffective offensive performance and stifling Rockets defense, the Suns weren't able to score for the final 2:18 of the game.

And here's that Goran kid...

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Let's make it four!

More energy, better rebounding, hit open shots. We got this.

Notes From Gentry's Office:

  • Glad Steve Nash got named to the All-Star team. He deserved it, not even close. Would have liked to have him get the eight days rest instead but he's an All-Star
  • It will be a good experience for Markieff Morris. Playing with guys that talented will show him how much more work he has to do on his game.
  • Houston is playing as well as anyone right now. They are deep with Patrick Patterson and Goran coming off the bench.
  • The Rockets seem to have really good chemistry, they don't care who scores and they are very versatile with who they can play at what position.
  • Last week the Rockets manhandled the Suns and were much more physical. Suns need to do everything better tonight.
  • Was impressed with Suns bench in Milwaukee. Got good looks, executed well and never lost confidence even when down four.
  • Gentry said he did have a conversation with Nash this year about needing him to score more.
  • Gentry got his 300th win in Milwaukee...he wasn't aware and didn't think he'd coached long enough for that.

Steve Nash has done his level best to keep the Suns afloat all season long, through offensive droughts and ever-shifting rotations. On Thursday evening, the NBA coaches rewarded him for his efforts...

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Steve Nash, NBA All-Star

There's going to be folks in Denver or Utah that might not agree, but Steve Nash making the 2012 NBA All-Star team as a reserve was a no-brainer. You already know this because you watch Steve Nash on a nightly basis. You know how well he's shooting. You know how well he's running the team and dishing the ball. You even know how well he's swatting shots (two of them!) this season.

Here's what NBA All-Star Steve Nash had to say about the honor earlier in the day before it became official that Captain Canada would be heading to his eighth All-Star Game.

"I had one scholarship offer and had a lot of ups and downs in the league so I don't want at any stage of my career to be under-appreciative of the All-Star Game. In some ways I'd probably appreciate it a lot more now knowing the stage of my career that I'm at and how hard I've worked to continue to play. I'd definitely enjoy it."

Not bad, for an old guy. Not bad at all.

Here's the list of Western Reserves:

G Steve Nash Suns
G Russell Westbrook Thunder
F LaMarcus Aldridge Trail Blazers
F Kevin Love Timberwolves
C Marc Gasol Grizzlies
X Tony Parker Spurs
X Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks

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