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When: Friday, March 15, 2013, 4:30 PM local time (7:30 EST)

Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA

Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

March 1, 2013 in Phoenix

The Suns relied on a big night from the reserves, as the four starters not named Goran Dragic combined for just 15 points on a paltry 7-25 from the field. An all-bench lineup of Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Wesley Johnson and Jermaine O'Neal played the entire fourth quarter and fended off a Hawks team that was never able to make a run to cut the Suns lead to less than five in the period.

The Suns 92-87 win was their third consecutive victory, which marked their second longest winning streak of the season. Dragic led the Suns in scoring with 19 despite sitting the entire fourth quarter. Al Horford had a game high 20 points for the Hawks.

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Team Bios:

Atlanta Hawks: 35-29

Points per game: 97.1 (17th) Points allowed: 96.8 (12th)

Full team statistics.

The recently floundering Hawks did the Suns a solid by virtue of defeating the Lakers 96-92 on Wednesday night. To add injury to insult, Kobe Bryant sprained his ankle when Dahntay Jones stepped under him while Kobe attempted a fall away jumper in the game's closing seconds. Bush league or not, it was an obvious foul (the league said as much after the game)... so I'd like to thank the referees involved for not paying attention to the game and/or swallowing their whistles.

You can watch the incident here, if you haven't already seen it ad nauseam.

Prior to vanquishing the soulless, opprobrious Lakers the Hawks had managed just one win in their past seven games, albeit mostly against fairly stiff competition (they did lose to the Suns, though). To add to their struggles, the Hawks are now battling injuries to Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, both of which sat out the victory over the Lakers. The Hawks will be looking to build on the momentum of that win as they sit in a three way tie for fifth in the Eastern Conference and are only 2.5 games out of fourth.

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Phoenix Suns: 22-43

Points per game: 94.4 (22nd) Points allowed: 100.4 (21st)

Full team statistics.

The good news is that it will take a herculean effort from the Suns to get pulverized as badly as they did Wednesday night against the Rockets. Losses like that require a special brand of horrible. Or do they? Despite a recent stretch where the Suns matched a season high with four wins in six games, the Suns have now been brutalized by at least 20 points in six of their last 12 losses. Massacres have become mundane.

After a 13-28 start under Alvin Gentry the Suns are now 9-15 under Lindsey Hunter. While the team has responded at times, they have been hopelessly overwhelmed at others. This shouldn't be a shocking revelation, though, since bad teams are generally consistently inconsistent. The Suns fell to 7-26 on the road after their loss at Houston, which puts them just a half-game ahead of Charlotte for the second worst road record in the league and doesn't inspire much confidence in their chances tonight.

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What To Watch For:

Injuries: If the Hawks are without Smith and/or Teague that will obviously improve the Suns chances. Even if one or both play it is possible that their effectiveness may be limited.

Goran Dragic: Other than a nondescript performance against the Timberwolves, Dragic has been indispensable in the Suns other recent wins. Just like the team, though, Goran's play has been lent to caprice as he's failed to provide consistent performances. If Dragic doesn't have a good game it's hard to envision a scenario where the Suns win.

Revenge: It wouldn't take a leap in logic to surmise that the Hawks might still be sore about their recent loss to the Suns. Yes, the Suns have become an embarrassing loss. Hopefully the Hawks don't go all Houston on us...

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2013 Lottery Watch:

The Phoenix Suns currently stand tied for fourth in the table tennis race. With the Hornets visiting the Wizards tonight, a Suns loss would either leave them in sole possession of fourth place or in a tie for third. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers and Timberwolves, two of the Suns fiercest adversaries, play on the road in very losable games.

There is a sense of renewed hope surrounding the Lakers potential lottery pick after the aforementioned loss and injury. The Lakers visit the Pacers tonight in a game that would appear to be a very likely loss. That would drop Los Angeles back into a tie with the Jazz, which would effectively put the Lakers on the outside looking in by virtue of tiebreakers. I will be a Pacers fan tonight.

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The Final Word(s):

This is a game that has loss written all over it. It would be nice if the Suns decided to play more than 19 minutes of basketball tonight, though, and bounce back from one of their most demoralizing losses of the season. I would expect Hunter to give players a very short leash after the performance in Houston since he was just as disgusted that the team quit as I was. With a pretty full slate of games this should be a good night to catch the Suns and do some scoreboard watching.

It was a nice touch that the Houston Rockets acknowledged the return of Luis Scola, and a fun storyline that Goran Dragic and Marcus Morris also returned to their old stomping grounds. But there are...

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Recap:

The first quarter included runs by both teams as the Rockets used an early 10-2 run to take a 19-10 lead, before the Suns countered with their own 8-0 spurt to close within one at 22-21. Wesley Johnson continued his recently solid play with 10 first quarter points to lead all scorers. Jermaine O'Neal also contributed with four points off the bench in his return to action. Donatas Motiejunas led the Rockets with seven points. Ultimately, Houston was able to impose their style and reached 30 points in the quarter. Score: Rockets 30, Suns 25.

The Suns started the second quarter with four reserves, along with Johnson, and quickly closed the gap, taking their first lead since 2-0 at a score of 35-34. The Suns even extended this lead to 43-38 before the wheels fell off. At that point, the Suns' discomfiting strategy appeared to be to dig as deep a hole as possible and then crawl into it to die. Houston closed the half on a 20-2 run. Twenty to two. Even that may not do justice to exactly how deplorably the Suns stumbled to the buzzer. 19 minutes of competitive spirit transmuted into five minutes of ineptitude in the blink of an eye. Score: Rockets 58, Suns 45.

Houston finished the half with three players in double figures, with James Harden leading all scorers with 13 points. Smilin' Wes had 12 for the Suns, but only two in the second quarter. Jermaine O'Neal had six points and two blocked shots in his return, but also gave away four turnovers. The Suns trailed by 13 points despite shooting 50% from the field. Houston was plus ten from the line as they shot three times as many free throws (21) as the Suns (7). The Suns also failed to adequately defend the three point line as the Rockets were 5-10 from deep. Goran Dragic had a relatively quiet first half after his fourth quarter pyrotechnics Saturday night as foul trouble hindered his effectiveness and limited him to five points and four assists.

The third quarter started like the first half ended, as Houston's run ballooned to 27-5 before the Suns decided to rejoin the game for a brief interval. Oh, the brevity of consistent play by this team. That use of bold was to emphasize brief. After the Suns closed a 17 point gap to 11 at 67-56, the massacre ensued. Not just your standard annihilation, either. The Rockets began globetrotting while the Suns generaled along. The Suns appeared so pathetically overmatched that it is stupefying that the Suns actually knocked off this team just four days prior. The Suns lost the quarter 32-17, and if you were watching it probably didn't feel that close.

The fourth quarter was garbage time. Hot, fetid garbage. Congratulations if you actually made it all the way through the game because you showed more heart than the Suns did tonight. That is all.

Final Score: 111-81

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Player of the Game:

The Rockets had a balanced attack (and the Suns were far too terrible to have a player in consideration), but I'll go ahead and give it to Motiejunas since he set a new career high with 19 points.

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Comments of the Game:

No offense to Luis, but I hope we can trade him in the offseason.

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Turnover. Turnover. Turnover. Turnover.

Suns basketball

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Suns look quite relaxed

i.e. sleepwalking through the game

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We played them even with Dragic in there.

Our offense just completely disappears when he takes a seat.

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Houston running away with it

Uh oh

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Last game it was Koufos.

Now, Asik. Both of them defensive centers scoring in our paint defense. Yikes.

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Garrett cuts it to 30!

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The Good:

Indomitable spirit. Well, that may be too strong an adjective, or completely inapplicable after the way this game degenerated into a savage beating, but the Suns are still coming out to play despite their obvious lack of talent. I know I'm reaching, but I hate leaving this section empty.

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The Bad:

After the strong early start, the Suns' effort appeared to dissipate. As soon as the Rockets punched, the Suns cowered instead of punching back. The Suns' play in the second half was sloppy and uninspired... and downright embarrassing.

The Suns' defense is so bad that we're going to need to start thinking up some new the Suns defense is so bad jokes. Let me start. The Suns defense is so bad that they're now calling the free throw line AND the three point line the charity stripe. Feel free to insert your own in the comments. Who says I don't spread levity?

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The Ugly:

20-2. Really? Way to close out a half, Suns. Definitely makes you salivate for the second half after being victimized by watching that bloodbath.

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Final Thoughts:

Add this to a list of forgettable games this season. Some nights, the Suns just can't compete. This was one of them. For every glimmer of hope, there is the crepuscular morbidity of games like tonight. It sure doesn't feel like we're building something good here.

At least the Suns lost.

Time: 5 p.m. MST TV: FSAZ PHOENIX — No matter the Phoenix Suns’ recent offense success, there’s no way to hide that models build in Houston and Denver are out of their league....

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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

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Last Meeting:

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.

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Team Bios:

Houston Rockets: 34-30

Points per game: 106.8 (1st) Points allowed: 103.6 (29th)

Complete Team Statistics

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.

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Phoenix Suns: 22-42

Points per game: 94.6 (20th) Points allowed: 100.3 (21st)

Complete Team Statistics

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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