Rockets-Suns Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 09, 2013
The Houston Rockets are looking to continue pulling away in the Western Conference playoff race, and having all four of their season meetings with the last-place Phoenix Suns remaining should certainly help. Chandler Parsons will try to keep the Rockets rolling Saturday night when they face the short-handed Suns for the first of back-to-back games. Houston (34-28) overcame one of its worst shooting performances to defeat Golden State 94-88 on Friday. The Rockets connected on just 36.5 percent from the floor, but they had 11 steals while holding the Warriors to 37.9 percent shooting to win for the third time in four games. "We definitely had some positive steps in our defense," said swingman James Harden, who shot 3 for 17 from the field while needing to sink 11 of 14 free throws to reach 20 points. "On the road, playoff-atmosphere game, it shows the type of camaraderie we've got and the kind of togetherness we're building." That could play a part in reaching the playoffs for the first time four seasons. Houston is seventh in the West, one game behind Golden State for sixth and two in front of the ninth-place Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets, though, may benefit from having four of their remaining 19 games against Phoenix (21-41), which is tied with New Orleans for the conference's worst record. After facing the Suns on the road, Houston will host them to open a seven-game homestand Wednesday, but Phoenix will face Denver on Monday. Parsons looks to continue his impressive production, averaging 24.3 points on 63.6 percent shooting - 61.4 percent (27 for 44) from beyond the arc - over the past six games. The second-year forward scored 26 points while hitting 6 of 8 from long range against the Warriors. He wasn't very effective against the Suns last season, averaging 5.8 points while the teams split four meetings. Harden, however, has put up 25.6 points per game in his past five matchups while with Oklahoma City, scoring 40 in a 109-97 victory at Phoenix on April 18. The Suns may have a hard time slowing down Parsons and Harden's drives through the lane with centers Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O'Neal out. Gortat may be done for the season with a right mid-foot sprain, while O'Neal is slated to miss a third game to be with his 13-year-old daughter, who is undergoing surgery to repair a leaking heart valve. Phoenix didn't fare too well without them Friday, falling 121-112 at Sacramento after losing 98-71 at home to Toronto two days earlier to halt a three-game winning streak. Luis Scola, who spent his first five seasons with Houston, had 14 points and nine rebounds while starting just his fifth career game at center Friday. He's facing the Rockets for the first time since leaving them via free agency last summer. "With Gortat and Jermaine out, those two guys are our anchors and they really support us down low defensively," coach Lindsey Hunter said. "But we can't talk about what we don't have. One of our favorite phrases is no excuses and the next guy has to step up. So we'll have to go back to the drawing board." Michael Beasley did his part against the Kings, pouring in 24 points after averaging 4.3 over the eight prior games. The forward totaled 12 points over his last two meetings with Houston after scoring 34 in the previous two - all with Minnesota.
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