Struggling Suns brace for Harden, Rockets
Given their performance the previous evening in Denver, there was little reason to anticipate such a resoundingly resilient effort from the Houston Rockets on Saturday in Salt Lake City but, for a team where inconsistency has become the norm, there was no cause for shock.
The Rockets avenged perhaps their most embarrassing loss of the season by throttling the Utah Jazz 125-98 at Vivint Smart Home Arena, matching in margin the 27-point beating they absorbed there on Dec. 6. Houston won with ease without guard Chris Paul (rest) and center Clint Capela (right thumb) and did so on the second half of a tough back-to-back at altitude.
When one expects the Rockets to zig, they zag.
"It was just a good spirit," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "And, you know, I think it's normal, especially in January and February. You get in the dog days and you get guys with heavy legs, tired. Every team needs a break and you have these (unpredictable results). It just goes back and forth."
In what will be the first of three meetings between the teams this season, the struggling Phoenix Suns will host the Rockets (30-22) on Monday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Houston should have Paul available in Phoenix and will again lean on guard James Harden, whose exceptional showing at Utah was just the latest in a long line of brilliant, individual displays.
Harden posted 43 points, 12 rebounds, six steals, five assists and four blocks. Harden has played in seven back-to-backs and is averaging 36.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists while logging 37.5 minutes per game.
"As I've said before, this is what makes players who they are," Harden said. "The grind days and days where there's back-to-backs, high altitude or we're in Phoenix on one of these three-in-four nights. Take it for what it is, and you go out there and just try to be studious. No excuses."
The combination of inexperience and injuries continues to overwhelm the Suns (11-43), who dropped their season-high-tying 10th consecutive game on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks. In that 118-112 loss, Phoenix was without its second-leading scorer, forward T.J. Warren (right ankle soreness), for a fifth consecutive game plus rookie point guard De'Anthony Melton (right ankle sprain) for a fourth consecutive game. Rookie center Deandre Ayton returned after missing six consecutive games with a sprained left ankle and posted 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Ayton was essentially alone in working the glass. The Hawks posted a 53-37 rebounding advantage, with second-year forward John Collins producing a whopping 10 offensive boards. The Suns rank 29th in rebounding percentage, just one statistic in a myriad of numbers showcasing how far Phoenix has to go before it can take a positive turn with its rebuilding.
"Just trying to remain positive at all times, lead this young group the best I can," Suns guard Devin Booker said after flirting with a triple-double against the Hawks (32 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists). "Hope we realize how important attention to detail is and coverages and just the will to win. So, we need to learn that. I would say you can't get comfortable with losing. I think we're comfortable with it right now."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 4, 2019