The Houston Rockets suffered a stunning loss to the Phoenix Suns back on March 9, and now get a shot at revenge on their home court. The second game of the season series will take place at the Toyota Center, where Houston has gone 20-9 on the season.
This game may seem like a revenge one from the Rockets' standpoint, but it's really not. Phoenix is nowhere near a threat to them at this point in the season, so it's just about coming away with the victory and maintaining pace in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
In the case of the Suns, however, it's about playing spoiler as often as possible. This team has nothing to play for and is bound for the lottery, so it's just a matter of going into each game and giving a top effort, win or lose.
Pulling that off is going to be tough tonight, not only because the Rockets are at home, but because they are sure to want to avenge that loss in some way. With a loud Houston crowd cheering them on, this game is sure to be full of surprises.
Time: Wednesday, March 13, 8 p.m. ET
TV: CSN Houston, Fox Sports Arizona HD
Records: Phoenix Suns (22-42) vs. Houston Rockets (34-30)
Injuries: James Harden (foot, day-to-day), Jermaine O'Neal (personal, expected to play) Channing Frye (heart, out), Marcin Gortat (foot, out), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Houston Seeks to Shake Off Stunner with Win At Home
When the Houston Rockets stepped onto the court of the U.S. Airways Center on March 9, there was no reason to believe that they wouldn't wipe the floor with the Phoenix Suns. Not only were the Rockets the better team on paper, but they had already proven themselves as contenders while the Suns have been nothing but bad all year long.
However, the Rockets were in for a surprise. Believe it or not, the Suns managed to pull off a close victory despite 38 points and eight assists from Houston star James Harden.
Thanks to 22 bench points from Jared Dudley and 18 from starter Goran Dragic, not to mention out-rebounding Houston 47-39, Phoenix pulled off a 107-105 victory.
Now that the scene has switched to Houston, the Rockets are ready to teach the Suns a lesson. The Toyota Center is a place where they have performed well all season long, and the fact that Phoenix has gone a mere 7-25 on the road heavily swings the pendulum in Houston's favor.
So long as the right men can step up and the key shots can be made, there is really no reason to believe that the Rockets will lose again and let the Suns play spoiler once again.
Key Matchup: Jeremy Lin vs. Goran Dragic
Houston plays a run-and-gun offense, and that means top production from the point guard is key. Jeremy Lin has been solid on the defensive side this season with 1.8 steals per contest, but his offense leaves something to be desired.
The Harvard grad is averaging just 12.8 points and 6.1 assists per game and shooting just 44 percent from the field and 32 percent from long range. He has made 48 percent of his attempts and 37.5 percent of his threes over his last five games, but his offense is still nowhere near the Linsanity craze that took the league by storm last season.
Against a weak team in Phoenix, it is absolutely critical that Lin have a good game. He was held to just 11 points in the first meeting between both teams, and also committed five turnovers before fouling out.
More importantly, Lin has to do a better job of containing Goran Dragic, who lit up Houston for 18 points on March 9.
Dragic has not been the best replacement for Steve Nash since signing a long-term deal with Phoenix last July, but has still managed to average a respectable 14.1 points and 6.9 assists to go with 1.6 steals per contest.
The man's percentages are similar to Lin's, at 43 percent for his field goals and just 31 percent for his threes, but he has been like a different player his last five games.
Granted, Dragic hasn't been a solid three-point shooter over that stretch, but has still averaged 14 points, 7.2 assists and three steals per game. He's in a position where he can take full advantage of Lin's offensive shortcomings, and thus turn them into scoring opportunities for Phoenix.
This means that Lin needs to play a little angry and do everything possible to fight past Dragic's defense and channel some of last year's Linsanity. That alone can turn this game into a Rockets win and keep the Houston fans roaring.
Otherwise, GM Daryl Morey may have some thinking to do about the contract he signed Lin to last summer.
X-Factor: Omer Asik
The Rockets got out-rebounded by Phoenix in their last matchup, but Omer Asik was able to lead the way with 16 boards. Though he did a fine job in that department, he needs to be even better in this game.
The Turkish seven-footer has averaged 10.3 points and 11.8 rebounds per game this season, and ranks second in the league in the latter category. Over his last five games, he has been a rebounding machine.
Asik has posted 14 boards per contest over that stretch, and it is vitally important that he continues his hot streak in that area for Round 2 against Phoenix. This means taking full advantage of his opponent's inexperience on the boards and being an absolute beast in the paint.
Should he be matched up against Jermaine O'Neal, it means taking advantage of O'Neal being slow on his feet and having the edge in terms of age.
So long as Asik can do his absolute best and then some against Phoenix in the paint, Houston has a shot. Should he be outplayed, then Phoenix could easily win once again.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Wesley Johnson
SF: Marcus Morris
PF: Luis Scola
C: Jermaine O'Neal
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: James Harden
SF: Chandler Parsons
PF: Donatas Motiejunas
C: Omer Asik
Houston may have lost Round 1, but that just means the team will be better prepared for Round 2. With a rowdy Toyota Center crowd cheering them on, the Rockets will win this game, and handily.
Jeremy Lin won't find Linsanity, but he'll be much better than he was on March 9 in containing Dragic while also contributing some of his own fire on offense. The numbers may not be much, but the key baskets and steals will make up for any lack of glamour.
James Harden will once again have a great game, and Omer Asik will raise the bar for himself with a stellar rebounding performance. Throw in clutch threes from Chandler Parsons, and the Rockets have this game in the bag.
All that the Suns will have to be positive about are solid scoring games from Jared Dudley and Michael Beasley, neither of whom will be able to carry the Suns out of this game, which the Rockets will control from start to finish.
Houston Rockets 107, Phoenix Suns 97
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