Rockets try to right the ship in visit to Suns

Field Level Media

February 29, 2024 at 2:05 am.

The Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns renew acquaintances for a two-game set that leads off Thursday night in Phoenix.

The clubs also meet Saturday in the desert, which will make three meetings in a nine-day span. The Rockets recorded a 114-110 home win over the Suns last Friday night.

Fred VanVleet scored 23 points and Jabari Smith Jr. added 22 points and 16 rebounds to pace Houston on Friday. Kevin Durant led Phoenix with 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

The setback was the second in a row for Phoenix, which bounced back with an ensuing 123-113 home win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

Grayson Allen scored 24 points to pace the Suns, Royce O’Neale contributed 20 points and nine rebounds and Jusuf Nurkic delivered a monster game with 18 points while matching his season best of 22 rebounds and adding seven assists.

Nurkic said he drew motivation by recent fourth-quarter substitution patterns from coach Frank Vogel in which he found himself on the bench.

“Didn’t play a lot of fourth quarters these past couple weeks … ” Nurkic said. “I said, ‘Frank, I’m gonna keep it simple. I’m not going to give you a reason to sub me out.’ ”

Allen and O’Neale each made six 3-pointers. O’Neale matched his season high in both points and treys.

Allen had failed to reach 20 points in 16 straight appearances before having the sharp outing on Sunday. He picks his spot in an offense led by Devin Booker and Durant.

“It’s a little bit of a feel, but a lot of it is that I understand our team goes where (Booker and Durant) go,” Allen said. “They’re going to lead us on both ends of the floor. So offensively, whatever shot-making I’m doing has to help the offense as a whole.”

Houston has struggled recently and has dropped eight of its past 10 games. The club needs a sharp turnaround to get back into the mix for a Western Conference play-in spot.

The Rockets are in 12th place in the West with just 24 games remaining.

Houston took it on the chin from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a home-and-home set. The Rockets lost 123-110 at home on Sunday and 112-95 on Tuesday in Oklahoma City.

Jabari Smith Jr. averaged 19 points and 15 rebounds in the two games. In the game against Phoenix last Friday, he had 22 points and 16 rebounds, giving him averages of 20 points and 15.3 rebounds over the past three contests.

Alperen Sengun had 23 points and 11 rebounds against Oklahoma City on Tuesday in a contest that left Rockets coach Ime Udoka frustrated.

“They take away the pocket, obviously, and collapse and crowd, and you get a bunch of wide-open looks,” Udoka said. “You don’t make that stuff and it stresses everything else out and causes us to force it a little bit too much individually.

“So we love the looks we got — a lot of wide-open ones — and didn’t shoot it well at all. So, you’ve got to live with the shots but play better.”

Houston shot 38.9 percent from the field and 9 of 39 from 3-point range. VanVleet had just five points on 2-of-11 shooting.

The Rockets defeated the Suns in the first meeting of the season, 129-113 at home on Dec. 27. Sengun scored 24 points and Jalen Green added 23 for Houston. Durant and Eric Gordon scored 27 apiece for Phoenix.

Gordon (groin) sat out against the Lakers.

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