Tension could linger in third Rockets-Suns matchup

Field Level Media

March 02, 2024 at 3:33 am.

The Phoenix Suns seek to run their homecourt winning streak to 10 games when they close a two-game set against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

Phoenix recorded a 110-105 victory over the Rockets on Thursday in a testy affair that included a heated confrontation between Suns star Devin Booker and Houston rookie Cam Whitmore.

Whitmore, 19, delivered a few hard shoves, and words were exchanged before the would-be skirmish was broken up.

So the environment could be heated when the teams meet for the third time in nine days. The Rockets notched a 114-110 win in Houston on Feb. 23.

“The kid did some (B.S.) in Houston, too, if you remember,” Suns center Jusuf Nurkic said. “So they want to play that nonsense basketball.

“I understand they’re young, they got fired up, they now have a good coach (in Ime Udoka), and I think they have a great set-up for the future, but we don’t want to play that (nonsense) basketball.”

Booker, who scored 20 of his 35 points in the first quarter on Thursday, also pointed to the situation beginning with the recent game in Houston. He attempted to downplay what happened Thursday by saying it’s just a young player trying to mix it up.

“I think it’s always fun to turn it up a little bit and get ultra-competitive,” Booker said. “That’s what this sport is about, and I feel like we are getting away from it as a whole NBA. Nothing personal, it’s just competition.”

Kevin Durant added 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists as Phoenix won its second straight game and ninth in its past 13. Nurkic had 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots, and Royce O’Neale contributed 11 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals for the Suns.

Jalen Green had a high-scoring game for the Rockets, making a season-high seven 3-pointers while scoring 34 points.

“The shot was falling,” Green said after his seventh 30-point game of the campaign. “I couldn’t get no calls at the rim, but really just trying to be aggressive.”

Green averaged just 11.8 points over the previous six games, and Thursday’s 10-of-28 shooting effort marked the seventh straight game in which he shot under 40 percent.

But Udoka liked what he was seeing from the 22-year-old.

“He was being extra aggressive, obviously,” Udoka said. “And then he made the shots that he’s missed, quite frankly. I love the aggression, coming out and attacking.”

But Green’s production couldn’t prevent the Rockets from losing for the ninth time in the past 11 games. Fred VanVleet scored 21 points and Whitmore added 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench.

The Rockets were just 11 of 45 from 3-point range with VanVleet (2 of 8), Jabari Smith Jr. (1 of 6), Dillon Brooks (0 of 6) and Whitmore (0 of 5) all struggling.

“It wasn’t one of our better nights as far as guys getting open looks and making the extra pass,” Udoka said. “We had a few guys who had it going, but a few guys who were struggling.”

Smith collected 16 rebounds and is averaging 15.5 boards over the past four games. He had 11 points in Thursday’s loss.