PHOENIX —  On the night the Phoenix Suns (33-22) celebrated the 20th anniversary of Kevin Johnson’s dunk on Hakeem Olajuwon, it was only fitting that a little guy stole the show....

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PHOENIX — Houston got up early and Phoenix led heading into the fourth quarter, but the Rockets made the plays late at U.S. Airways Center to hand the Suns their first loss of the post-All-Star...

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Goran Dragic hit a career high 35 points, including 25 in the first half, but it wasn't enough as the Rockets came back from a 10-point deficit to rally to a win over Phoenix.

The Houston Rockets read the Phoenix Suns scouting report and decided to take the game into their own hands. The Suns are good at defending the three-point line but give up a lot of paint points. So, the Rockets spent the entire first quarter passing into the paint, to the tune of 20 of their first 26 points.

But then the Suns second unit, along with ironman Goran Dragic, went on an answering 29-8 run in the second quarter to take the lead back at 48-45 and the game was ON despite the Rockets taking back a 4-point lead into halftime. Goran Dragic had 25 point in that first half, along with 2 assists and 3 steals.

In the third quarter, the Suns ran roughshod over the Rockets 37-23 on an onslaught of forced turnovers and Gerald Green (18 points in the third). Green ended the Q with a banked in three pointer to give the Suns a 10-point lead.

After that first quarter, I would have never thought the Suns would come back. Even in the third, I had a strong feeling that the Suns would be clawing back all night only to come up short, much like they did in Houston before the All-Star Break.

But happily, I was wrong. The Suns took a 10-point lead in the fourth (93-83).

The fourth quarter was an exercise in staying in front, and hoping that Goran Dragic didn't run out of steam before the Rockets found their range.

And then there was that "clear path foul" where Chandler Parsons tripped himself on the way to the basket and the Suns Rockets got 4 points out of it. Suddenly, the Suns lead was down to 2.

From there, the game was back and forth to the end. Heavy weight hits vs. heavy weight hits. Crazy stuff.

The refs really made the whole last few minutes tough to swallow, with bad call after bad call - even after giving themselves a chance to review it.

Patrick Beverley came up really big in the fourth quarter for the Rockets, with 12 points in the fourth quarter (20 for the game) and hounding defense on Goran Dragic.

Dragic got a career high 35 points in the game, but only 6 in the fourth as he was gassed himself and dogged by Beverley.


First half notes:

The game started with the Houston Rockets shooting short, while the Suns were shooting long. Quickly, Houston got three point-blank shots for Terrence Jones while the Suns just tried to keep pace. The Suns didn't help themselves by missing three free throws in the opening three minutes. The Rockets just kept coming, with scoring from secondary scoring options Patrick Beverly and Terrence Jones (10 of Rockets 18 points).

Overall, it was a first quarter to forget. Everyone trying too hard, but playing terrible. Making awful passes and generally failing to look cohesive at all on offense.

That it was only a 14-point Rocket lead at the end of one was... oh screw it, that was terrible. Terrible basketball. After a 20 point blowout last time, the Suns are playing like they have no idea how to beat this Rockets team.

It took a little into the second quarter before the Suns began to show some life against the Rockets second unit. The Suns went on a 29-8 to take the lead back with a back court of Goran Dragic (13 of those 29 points) and Ish Smith leading the way, and the Morris brothers doing work down low.

But then the Rockets righted their ship, going on an 11-0 run before Dragic sank another pair of threes and Gerald Green sunk a couple of free throws to cut the Rockets halftime lead to a manageable 4 points.

Dwight Howard said during the halftime interview that Dragic had been playing at an All-Star level all year.

Dragic scored 25 points in the first half alone. But the half really belonged to the Rockets and the Suns were just trying to stay close.

One of the most memorable dunks in Phoenix Suns history is being honored tonight at halftime of Suns/Rockets.

While I was brainstorming for topics the staff and I engaged in the timeless debate of crunchy peanut butter vs. smooth, but in the end I decided to discuss the cacophony of silence at the trade deadline and how the Suns are finally getting noticed.

No Big Deal

The trade deadline came and went and the Suns stone gargoyled their way through the theatrics. I, for one, was mildly disappointed by the lack of activity from Suns prodigy GM Ryan McDonough. The chimerical notions of another McMiracle windfall went by the wayside as there was no joy in Mudville Phoenix last Thursday.

Maybe I've become spoiled (in less than a year) by McGenius's foudroyant moves, educing talent out of nowhere at bargain basement prices. After all, he has basically changed the fortunes of a franchise in shambles in his first year on the job. The ignominious and incompetent nature of last season seem like a lifetime away.

But after doing so much with so little in his inchoate tenure McMidas failed to do something spectacular with what was regarded by some as an invaluable asset. Sorry if I keep hopscotching between nicknames. I like to mix it up. I have four different nicknames for my daughter. I'll stick with the last one for a bit.

And as I sat expectantly waiting for Ryan to touch Emeka Okafor and turn him into gold (like King Midas did to his daughter in some versions of the story) Emeka instead turned into cold, hard cash.

This was part of the idea from the start, however, as much of the appeal of Okafor's expiring deal is that insurance was picking up 80% of the bill. That meant another team could potentially swap expiring deals with the Suns and avoid a dilemma with respect to their cap situation (such as paying the luxury tax or entering repeater territory). One such trade that made the rounds was a potential trade with the Lakers where the Suns would receive Pau Gasol. Here's how that kind of scenario played out.

The Lakers were ~$5.7 million over the tax line. By trading Gasol's ~$19.3 million dollar contract for Okafor's ~$14.5 million dollar deal the Lakers would get ~$4.8 million closer to the tax line. They would even have been in a position to do another small salary dump to get under the tax line. Then they would collect the remaining ~$5.7 left to be paid by insurance on Okafor's contract.

The Lakers could save some serous coin (about $10.5 million dollars not even including the tax money) and get under the tax line. I never liked this deal much to be quite frank. There were several reasons why.

1. I'm not really sure how well Gasol would mesh with the way the Suns are playing.  Although he address some of the Suns most glaring issues in terms of halfcourt and post scoring and ball distribution from a big I'm not infatuated with his lack of intensity and overall demeanor. He would inject some soft and slow into a gritty explosive squad.

2. From reports the Lakers actually wanted a first round pick in return for an expiring rental.

3. The deal would reduce the Suns available money under the cap from ~$5.2 million to about $400K. That would hamper the Suns flexibility to make moves at the draft - a time that I wouldn't be surprised for the Suns to be very active.

So, like I alluded to earlier, McMidas did turn Emeka into gold in a way. Phoenix just kept it. The Pau deal would have cost Robert Sarver ~$10.5 million. Instead Sarver keeps the ~$5.7 million insurance payout... And I'm perfectly fine with that. There's no reason for him to be a spendthrift. He can reinvest that money in the team in another way.

I was just woolgathering over the prospect of McDonough fleecing another team in a deal that made the Suns better now and later while conserving that cap space for future deals. I was hoping he would turn Emeka into more than ~$5.7 million in savings and an expiring deal.

In the end, maybe it just shows how much confidence I have in the way the Suns are headed.

We're the Suns. Recognize.

Speaking of the way the Suns are headed... they have been kicking ass and taking names. I wasn't even particularly surprised by the outcome of the 106-85 laugher against the Spurs. They just added San Antonio to the list of teams they've run off the court recently.  Since January 22nd they have double digit wins against the Indiana Pacers, Golden St. Warriors and San Antonio. Phoenix is 11-4 in its last 15 games.

The team whose best player's name is mispronounced to a ridiculous degree, the team that has lacked notoriety to the nth degree, is finally shoving its way into relevancy. It's still not all the way there, though, as coming out of the All-Star break I heard a couple clowns on ESPN talking about Phoenix as a team that could fall out of the playoff race with the Denver Nuggets, yes Denver, being one of the teams that could supplant them. The same Nuggets that are eight games behind the Suns... But at least they were talking about the Suns. Baby steps. You have to forgive some of these national guys who cover NBA basketball for a living but don't know sh*& about it.

But someone at ESPN is paying attention. After being scheduled for one measly game on their network against the Pelicans (Friday 2/28) at the beginning of the season the Suns are being flexed in. In addition to the game against Houston tonight Phoenix was showcased on a January 8th thriller against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the pantsing of the Pacers January 22nd.

The Suns are averaging 15,981 per game through 28 games so far this season (which is an abysmal fourth worst in the NBA), but against San Antonio Friday night they drew 18,422 fans, their first sellout of the season. That's 2,441 more fans that got to witness a bloodbath. The players are cognizant of the shift, too. Channing Frye specifically mentioned how much the crowd support helps after the Spurs game. This increase in ticket sales is taking place at the same time that prices are rising. The Suns are are trending towards being a hot commodity once again.

I'm past the point of looking behind the Suns, though. The surprises of the early season have been displaced by expectations. The teams that are trailing Phoenix are of little concern. I'm focused on climbing in the standings. My cupidity is steering me towards coveting home court advantage in the first round.

Why not? Phoenix is only down by one game in the loss column to the Clippers. A home win against the Rockets tonight would put them within two games in the loss column of them. Portland has been faltering recently. I could realistically see the Suns catching any or all of these three. Give the Suns home court advantage against any of the teams (not named Memphis) that would be below them and Phoenix becomes the favorite in that series.

Once again, why not? Phoenix is 8-7 against the other seven teams currently in the playoffs.

Oklahoma City 0-1

San Antonio 1-2

Houston 1-1

LA Clippers 1-0

Portland 2-1

Golden St. 2-1

Dallas 1-1

Take the top two teams out of the equation and the Suns are 7-4 against the other teams. The Suns have proven they can hang with them. Are you trembling at the thought at being matched up against any of these guys? Besides the Thunder and Grizzlies I like any matchup.

The Great Debate

Oh yeah, the debate. It was rather contentious. We became entrenched on our respective sides. Insults were hurled. Some of us are emotionally scarred. After the dust had settled crunchy won the day. It was predestined from the very start, though, as I lean crunchy.

Possible discussion during next week includes, "Who would win a fight between Goran Dragic and Mr. Fantastic?"

G Twice out.

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