The Phoenix Suns have to take advantage of matchups against teams near the bottom of the standings to earn a favorable playoff seed in the daunting Western Conference, and they did just that Wednesday.
Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak with a 109-103 victory over the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul led the way as the Suns improved to 8-5 on the campaign.
Houston has now lost three in a row and fell to 4-9 despite a solid showing from Christian Wood, Eric Gordon and Victor Oladipo.
Notable Player Stats
- Devin Booker, G, PHO: 24 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST
- Deandre Ayton, C, PHO: 26 PTS, 17 REB, 5 BLK, 3 AST
- Chris Paul, G, PHO: 13 PTS, 4 AST, 4 REB
- Victor Oladipo, G, HOU: 22 PTS, 6 AST, 5 REB, 3 STL
- Eric Gordon, G, HOU: 22 PTS, 2 AST, 2 REB
- Christian Wood, C, HOU: 20 PTS, 11 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 2 BLK
Suns Shake Off Rust in Impressive Road Win
The Suns had three games postponed because of the league's health and safety protocols and looked rusty in their first game in a week during Monday's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
While scoring wasn't an issue in the 108-104 defeat, defense and 18 turnovers held them back and put more pressure on Wednesday's contest as they attempted to snap out of a 2-4 stretch following a 5-1 start.
The turnover issues didn't go away, as Booker and Paul combined for nine of them in the first half with some sloppy play out of the gates.
However, they made up for it by spearheading the offense as Phoenix set the tone from the start. Paul darted in and out of the defense while seeking out his shot, Booker hit from the outside and facilitated for others when Houston collapsed on him, and Ayton found some early success on the blocks with touch around the rim and the ability to control the boards.
Jae Crowder and Cameron Payne also provided a spark off the bench for the visitors as they overcame some of that rust and appeared to be on cruise control.
Still, Phoenix may have shifted too far into cruise control mode on the defensive side as it watched its 20-point advantage shrink to seven heading into the final quarter.
Just when things seemed to be slipping away, CP3 started working in pick-and-rolls with Ayton and seemingly had the ball on a string while setting up his big for ideal looks. DeMarcus Cousins was no match for Ayton, either, and his burst in the fourth helped keep Houston at bay before Booker scored four points in the final minute to ice the win.
Houston's Comeback Attempt Falls Short
Clearly, this is not what the Rockets envisioned for their 2020-21 campaign.
James Harden is gone, John Wall is currently sidelined and they entered play looking up at every Western Conference team but the Minnesota Timberwolves in the standings. That's not to say there is no hope, as Wood looks like a young building block in the frontcourt and Oladipo poured in 32 points in his first game with the team.
Oladipo was not shy about taking on the role of go-to scorer and launched 17 shots in the first half alone Wednesday.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, he made just five of them as the home team fell behind by double digits. Making matters worse was the fact that Wood turned his ankle and went to the locker room after he was on the ground in pain.
To Houston's credit, it could have folded when it fell behind by 20 points in the third quarter while facing so much adversity. Instead, Wood returned and knocked down multiple threes, Gordon launched from deep and started attacking the lane, and Oladipo started facilitating instead of only looking for his shot.
The result was a seven-point game heading into the fourth quarter and a Rockets team that appeared to have more fight than it did earlier in the season.
That fight continued down the stretch, and a layup from Oladipo and dunk from Jae'Sean Tate cut the deficit to two with less than two minutes remaining. However, Houston couldn't make enough stops down the stretch and fell just short.
Both teams are in action Friday when the Suns host the Denver Nuggets and the Rockets are at the Detroit Pistons.