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This season the Houston Rockets became that strange bedfellow that you needed to be successful, because that would in-turn make you more successful. For a time, the Rockets were the team that could thwart the Los Angeles Lakers from making the playoffs, but the circumstances have since changed and a win over the Rockets is another notch in the belt of wins that the team should not have had in hindsight.

Coming into tonight the Phoenix Suns have done a pretty remarkable job shooting themselves in the foot winning games they could (should) lose to better help the big picture come together.

The second quarter started a new style of Suns basketball, with a new group on the court. Kendall Marshall, Jared Dudley, P.J. Tucker, and Michael Beasley sparked a 16-0 run in the quarter to erase a six point deficit and put together a respectable 10 point lead. The run went all the way to an 18-1 overall spurt and that was the wake-up call that James Harden needed.

From that point on Harden took it upon himself to score or assist on 26 of his teams next 41 points as the margin was cut to one point heading into the fourth quarter.

The bench was the spark as they scored eight points in the first quarter giving the starters a modest breather, but led by Dudley the reserves lit up the Rockets for 33 points in the middle quarters. Dudley was a starter for 50 games this season and he seems to be responding well to the move to the bench scoring 22 points off the pine. He was able to counteract the scoring of Harden for that period of time reminding the team and the fans how good he can be.

It was the erratic play that the Suns forced that allowed them to go on their run. They were getting their hands on loose balls and forcing turnovers.

Most of the turnovers were a combination of luck and sloppy ball-handling by the Rockets, but credit is given where credit is due and the Suns deserve a lot of it for being in the right place at the right time. On one play in particular Harden threw a perfect pass to Markieff Morris, the problem being that the Rockets no longer have a Morris on their roster. I can see Harden turning to head coach Kevin McHale and saying, "Coach I thought it was Marcus." Well, that is a little better now, but again there are no Morris' on the Rockets.

What got the Rockets back into the game as they were seemingly asleep on the court was a run in the second quarter by Harden. He nailed a contested three to end the run and followed that up a strong drive and finish and then an and-1 giving Tucker his fourth foul just before the half.

In the waning moments of the game the Suns went to a two-point guard line-up with Goran Dragic and Marshall running the offense. This allowed them to mask Marshall on Jeremy Lin and give Dragic some minutes off the ball to create turnovers.

The closing line-up of Dragic, Marshall, Dudley, Marcus, and Hamed Haddadi who had a career-high 10 rebounds in a career-high 27 minutes holding up strong rebounding the ball and playing solid defense. They scored just enough to etch out a 107-105 win over the reeling Rockets.

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Get used to seeing these guys, since the Suns play the Rockets four times in the next four weeks including twice in the next several days. Keep your tissues handy to wipe up the drool over their youth and upside compared to what the Suns have to offer.

There's no way to slice it except that the Rockets jettisoned their aging players a couple years ago, so they're 1-2 years ahead of the Suns in the rebuild process.

Houston, too, had middle-aged players until just last season when Morey cleaned the last rooms of the house for new residents. Goran Dragic was their starting PG after Kyle Lowry got hurt, and Luis Scola was their starting PF for the last five seasons.

Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey spent years acquiring assets and clearing books so that he could restart his team's future with younger players who, collectively, had a higher ceiling. Yet he kept the team winning while doing all this work behind the curtain. The Rockets missed the playoffs the last three years, but still had winning records.

While the Rockets are still not a contender, they are set up to become one if they can add that one more piece to their puzzle in the near future. For now, they are one of the two youngest teams in the NBA and yet have a strong chance to make the playoffs with a heavy dose of home games the rest of the season.

The Rockets' best player is 23-year old James Harden, the crown jewel of "available" players over the past two seasons. He was bought for a Kings' ransom (a guaranteed lottery pick, quality SG, 2012 lottery SG and spare parts) and got even better than anyone had hoped.

Harden's supporting cast is talented but not win-the-whole-thing talented.

Chandler Parsons, a 2011 second-round pick, has become a quality small forward (15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists a game) who has been on an absolute tear lately. He has scored at least 20 points in six straight games, including 27-44 three-pointers. Let me repeat. That was 44 3-point attempts in the last six games by Parsons alone.

PG Jeremy Lin is no Goran Dragic, but he's two years younger (24 vs. 26), so there's that. Lin puts up 12 points and 6 assists per game and does a good job of getting out of James Harden's way.

C Omer Asik is young, but not that young (26 yrs old), and does a quality job manning the middle. Asik is a rebounding machine who has pulled down 32 boards in the last two games alone. He is currently licking his chops at the prospect of fighting for boards with Hamed Haddadi and Markieff Morris.

The PF position is still a conundrum for Houston, who generally just go small with a stretch four on the floor for spacing. Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson were that guy until the trade deadline, and Thomas Robinson hasn't found his niche yet in the Houston offense.

Only Harden is all-star caliber, but that's enough to make the playoffs this season.

Tonight's keys

The Rockets are young, but will likely be tired after the top four guys played at least 37 minutes against the Warriors last night.

The Suns are playing a kinda-young rotation right now, but also put in big minutes against Sacramento. Wesley Johnson, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola all played at least 35 minutes.

(By the way, Johnson got his first start of the season last night (along with the Morris twins in the starting lineup!) and put up 19 points and 4 rebounds. Nice.)

Let's see who comes out more focused.

Key matchup

James Harden vs. Michael Beasley

I write this with tongue in cheek because they don't play the same position and aren't the same caliber.

Yet Michael Beasley played his best game in a thousand years last night - 24 points on 10-21 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a block - while James Harden played one of his worst - 20 points on 3-17 shooting, 6 rebounds, 11 assists and three steals.

My guess is that this matchup will reverse itself tonight.

Beasley has not had two consecutive good-shooting nights all season, and just might get only a handful of minutes if he comes out lethargic.

Harden has made it a career to kill the Suns. Last season with OKC, he put up 26.7 points on 60% shooting in three games against the Suns, in only 32 minutes a game.

Look for that matchup to be a frustrating one for Suns fans tonight.

Goran Dragic vs. Jeremy Lin

Now this is a better matchup to watch. The Rockets dumped Dragic for Lin, even paying Lin more money than Dragic took from the Suns.

Last night against Sacramento, Dragic put up a heckuva stat line: 17 points, 16 assists, 5 steals and 4 rebounds. Since the All-Star break, he is putting up 14.7 points, 10.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game - easily his best stretch of the season.

Let's hope Dragic wants to send a message back to Houston tonight.

Summary

Don't look forward to a Suns win, but don't be surprised if they pull one out either. The Suns are 4-5 since the All-Star break with some nice wins under their belts.

The Suns have three guys on their roster who might want to send a message back to Houston: Dragic, Scola and Marcus Morris.

It’s going to be a long 20 games. The Phoenix Suns lost a shootout to the Sacramento Kings 121-112 at the Sleep Train Arena on Friday. The Suns fell in this game because of a complete lack of defense...

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Recap:

The Suns started with a balanced attack, while the Kings went with a heavy diet of Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. All five Suns in the starting lineup made solid contributions on offense, but sluggish transition defense was the culprit in conceding a lead to the Kings after a quick start. In all, Sacramento managed 8 layups in the first quarter. Eight. Four threes by the Suns fomented their own offense as the quarter remained close. Kings 32, Suns 30.

The Suns kicked off the second quarter on an 11-2 run with four players scoring and a ferocious dunk by Jared Dudley, who has fresh legs due to his playing time being severely truncated since the youth movement has largely banished him to the bench. After the Suns took a 45-38 lead on a pair of Luis Scola free throws, the Kings flipped the script and went on their own 13-3 run to go up 51-48. Isaiah Thomas hit three three-pointers in less than two minutes to fuel the surge. The Suns then countered the deluge with more offense of their own to keep the game tight going into the half. Kings 59, Suns 57.

I would say the first half was defense optional, but I think both teams were actually directed not to play any. Either way it was a torrid pace with plenty of points. Cousins led the way for Sacramento with 18 points and seven rebounds. Thomas and Evans were also in double figures with 13 and 10, respectively. 38 points in the paint and 14 fast break points helped the Kings shoot 54.5% halfway through. As aforementioned, the Suns countered with a variegated attack with three players (Scola, Goran Dragic and Wesley Johnson) scoring 10 points. Dragic also dropped eight dimes to lead all players.

The game bogged down for the first half of the third quarter as the offensive amnesty from the first half seemed to expire. Either that or both of these teams are just really bad and can't even score consistently on defensive sieves. You be the judge. Dragic sustained a strong first half, including a fake timeout play that caught the Kings with their pants down and resulted in an easy layup, and finished the quarter with 14 points and 10 assists. Thomas also built on a solid first half with 11 points in the third, 24 in the game, as the often atrabilious and immature Cousins sat with foul trouble. Kings 89, Suns 82.

After allowing the Kings to build a 98-87 lead, prompting sighs from Suns fans, the Suns fought back with eight straight points to claw back in. The Kings again went ahead by 11 at 116-105 behind a barrage of three point bombs, but the Suns answered again to keep the game interesting right down to the wire. Then came the usual result of the season as the Suns failed to execute down the stretch when given an opportunity and allowed the Kings to seal the game with free throws after a scrum for the ball with 16 seconds left went in the Kings favor. I guess they wanted it more. You can have it. I want ping pong balls anyway.

Final Score: Kings 121, Suns 112

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Player of the Game:

Cousins, Evans, Thomas and Thornton. Hard to pick from these four. Cousins had 22 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists on 9-13 shooting. Evans had 25 points and 5 assists on 9-12 shooting. Thomas had 27 points, 6 assists and 5 steals on 8-13 shooting. Thornton had 23 points on 9-13 shooting, including several big threes in clutch time.

Big ups to Goran Dragic in the loss. 17 points, 16 assists and 5 steals is outstanding... and could have been good for player of the game had the Suns actually won.

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Comments of the Game:

It's raining

God is weeping with us (in response to Jazz loss)

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KJ's on the Suns' broadcast, that's pretty cool actually

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I think we should hijack the Lakers/Raptors thread.

It would be in the Raptors' best interest to win tonight...

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Is it just me...

Or does Beasley's hair look slightly less ridiculous tonight

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How do you lose best?

By scoring lots, keeping it relatively close, and playing no D. From the Book Of Tanking, By Gregg Popovich.

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This place is called Sleep Train Arena

Seems appropriate. As does our going-out-of-business airlines arena.

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Whew -- I was afraid we were thinking about winning this one

then Beas clanked a long two and righted the ship...

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Such horrendous defense

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Come on, Toronto...

How can you only be up 8?

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If you give up 120 points, it's pretty much impossible to win.

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The Good:

The Suns could have come out listless and pouting with the recent attrition of size, but instead came out with hustle to combat the Kings muscle. We've seen quite a few ugly, low scoring games this season. An ugly, high-scoring game was a nice change of pace.

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The Bad:

We knew the Suns faced an uphill battle in the paint, but Cousins abused them in the first half and the Kings reeled off 38 points in the paint. Luckily for the Suns Cousins intelligently took himself out of the game for stretches with mental lapses foul trouble.

It looked like both teams signed a truce before the game to allow a cavalcade of easy buckets. Trust me, it wasn't a case of great offense beating great defense. It was more like mediocre, fast-paced offense torching pathetic, atrocious defense.

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The Ugly:

The site. Hard to enjoy the game thread when it keeps freezing and lagging. Fix the problems, guys.

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Final Thoughts:

When you're a really bad team (see Suns, Phoenix) you really don't want to win poorly played games like this. Losing is probably the best bet at this point. Maybe if the Suns pick high enough they can draft somebody who actually knows how to play defense...

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While not a huge fan of the spate of hoops commentators over at the "flagship", one of their brethren I actually enjoy reading is Bill Simmons. His humorous approach to making a point comes across like one of your funny buddies that manage to say things in a way that incite laughter without taking the jab too much to heart, even if it is at your own expense. That is hard to do, and I know because I usually inject humor into my writing only to find that I have insulted many a reader.


However, sometimes when you are trying to be funny, you forget that things you say as jokes may be taken as an implication of fact. Case in point is Simmons' latest article regarding the worst contracts in the NBA. In it, he refers to the Andrew Bynum deal [which is expiring] and suggests that someone will indubitably offer Bynum a deal this summer despite the fact that he spends more time at the bank cashing his huge checks than he does actually playing basketball.

In his article, Simmons writes

"Watching Bynum hit the open market this summer is going to be riveting. I'm feeling a two-year, $30 million deal with a team option for year three from Phoenix, a team that is the odds-on favorite to be involved in basketball's first major PED scandal had phenomenal success rehabbing injury risks over the years."

Now, while I get the irony he is putting forth, and can appreciate that Robert Sarver would indeed be dumb enough to lock Bynum up for that deal [or more scary - a max deal], his implication made about the Suns training staff leads me to believe that Simmons has forgotten one of the cardinal rules of writing - thou shalt not make a joke slyly suggesting someone is cheating through the use of PED's without having a single shred of evidence.


While it is true that in the world of sports [and I mean ALL of team sports], no group of trainers have ever eclipsed the popularity and production of the people that actually participate in the sport. It used to be that the Phoenix Suns were a destination for free agents because we had the weather, the women, the wins, and great ownership. Now we have the trainers, and I'm done. The Suns training staff has resurrected more careers than - ugh, where is Dennis Miller when you need a great analogous reference!!!

Yet, to basically accuse the trainers of something illegal goes a little too far. Is it simply a joke that is funny? Is it a jab at them because they have been successful where no one else has been? Does the fact that more injured players seem to be able to perform after working with the Suns staff than statistically should be able to mean that something fishy is going on? Who knows? Saying the Suns training staff are the NBA's version of Viagra is funny. But to suggest that illegal substances are the root of their success isn't funny and I am shocked that Simmons would write that in his column.

I am sure Aaron Nelson has better things to do than sue Bill Simmons for libel. And I am no attorney, but I think he might have a case here. Simmons crossed the line; he should retract what he wrote and issue an apology. Either that, or produce compelling evidence of the accusation and stop hiding behind humor as your scapegoat.

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