Houston Rockets vs. Phoenix Suns Preview and Pick

Houston Rockets +1.5 (48-26) at Phoenix Suns -1.5 (40-34) O/U 22510 PM ET Wednesday April 1, 2009 on ESPN
By Jason Green at Predictem.com

Tonight the Houston Rockets travel to the desert to play the Phoenix Suns. Unless the Suns go on a major hot streak and the Dallas Mavericks have a freefall, it looks as if the Suns will miss the playoffs for the first time in several years. The Suns currently trail the Mavs by 4 games with less then 10 to play. The Suns are really trying to miss the playoffs with their recent play as they have lost 3 in a row, but are 6-4 in their last 10 games.

The Rockets are currently in the 4th position in the Western Conference, but they only lead Portland by one game, New Orleans by 1.5 games, and Utah by 2 games. Conversely, they can move up in the conference, as they only trail 2nd place Denver by game and are also tied with the Spurs. The Rockets would dearly love to avoid playing the Lakers until the conference finals and they would also love to avoid playing the Utah Jazz, who have beaten them in the playoffs in the past couple of seasons. The Rockets are coming off a win and are 7-3 in the last 10 games.

This season the Suns are 24-13 at home and the Rockets are 18-18 in away games.

Hoops bookies have the Suns as 1.5-point favorites in this game with a total around 225. The Suns are posted at -120 as home favorites and the Rockets are posted at +100 as road dogs.

The Rockets come into this game after beating the L.A. Clippers 110-93 on Saturday. The high scorers for the Rockets in that game were Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming each going for 21 points. For the game the Rockets shot well going 43/82 from the floor for a FG% of 52.4%. On D the Rockets allowed the Clippers to shoot 37/80 for a FG% of 46.3%.

The Suns come into this game after a huge loss to the Sacramento Kings 126-118 on Sunday. The high scorer for the Suns in that game was Shaquille O’Neal going for 24 points on 9/13 shooting. For the game the Suns shot 46/93 for a FG% of 49.5%. On D the Suns allowed the Kings to shoot 49/95 for a FG% of 51.6%.

Well, at least the Suns are fun to watch, as they are the highest scoring team in the NBA this season (109 ppg), while the Rockets rank 17th (98.5 ppg). Defense is another matter, as the Rockets are legit ranking 7th in points allowed (94.5 ppg), while the Suns are way down the list at 27th (107.2 ppg). Both teams are decent on the boards, as the Rockets have a rebounding differential of +2.8 rpg and the Suns are at +0.9 rpg.

This season the Rockets are 36-37-1 ATS and the Suns are 30-42-2. In terms of Over/Under games the Rockets are 36-37-1 this season and the Suns are 42-31-1.

On the injury front SG Leandro Barbosa is Out for the Suns and the Rockets are not reporting any significant injuries.

The Rockets have already clinched a playoffs spot, but because the conference is so close they could finish anywhere from the 2nd seed to the 8th seed. The Suns had reeled off 6 straight wins before hitting the road and losing 3 in a row.

Shaquille O’Neal (18.1 ppg) always seems to have good games against Yao Ming and he has to be huge tonight for the Suns to win. If Ming can hit the mid range J and bring Shaq out from the basket area it will open up the lane for the Rockets to attack the rim.

The Suns are not a good defensive team, but they have to play some D on PG Aaron Brooks (11.3 ppg), who has averaged 24.5 points while shooting 57.6% in the Rockets last two games, both wins, against Houston. The Rockets have won both meetings of these teams this season.

The Rockets have to slow down the pace of this game, as they cannot get into a shootout with the Suns, as that is their strength. If the Rockets can slow down the pace and force the Suns to play a half court set offense they should easily win this game.

Jason Richardson (17.3 ppg) has to have a big scoring game, since Barbosa (14.3) is out with an injury.

This is THE playoffs for the Suns, as they cannot afford to lose this game if they want to make the post season.

Jason’s Pick: I like the Rockets to cover the point spread.