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Suns Strokes: Suns unable to take down Harden-less Rockets

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives on Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Minus James Harden, the Houston Rockets are still a good team. How good? Ask the Phoenix Suns.

Without Harden, and five other players, the Rockets ripped the Suns, 112-95, in front of a sold-out Talking Stick Resort Arena on Friday.

And before a national television audience.

Six of the eight available Rockets players scored in double figures. Chris Paul led the way with 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting and Clint Capela recorded a double-double with 17 points and 16 rebounds.

The game turned in the Rockets’ favor early.

Down 11 in the first quarter, the Rockets outscored the Suns 37-8 over the next 12-plus minutes to take a 47-29 lead with 5:13 to play in the second quarter.

The Suns (16-27) would get no closer than 10 points the rest of the way, and they trailed by as many as 27.

The Rockets shot only 41.5 percent from the field and made just 31.9 percent (15-of-47) of their 3-pointers, but they had a 19-7 advantage at the free throw line to improve to 4-2 without Harden, who continues to be sidelined by a grade-two hamstring strain.

It was the Rockets’ (30-11) third straight win and sixth in row over the Suns, which is their longest winning streak in series history.

Devin Booker (27 points), T.J. Warren (21) and Dragan Bender (14) reached double figures for the Suns, who also played short-handed, missing starter Marquese Chriss and key reserves Josh Jackson and Isaiah Canaan due to injury.

THE GOOD

Of the Suns’ first 13 points, Tyson Chandler accounted for eight. He had six points — all lay-ups — and assisted on a Booker cutting lay-up. His last basket keyed a 10-0 run that put the Suns ahead 21-10 at the 5:20 mark of the period. Chandler finished with team-highs in points (six) and rebounds (five) in his nine minutes of court time.

It happened with 55 seconds left in the second quarter. Troy Daniels hit a 3-pointer, extending his consecutive games streak with at least one made 3 off the bench to 23, the second-longest such streak in Suns franchise history. Only Wesley Person (26 straight from Jan. 7-April 8, 1997) has made a 3 off the bench in more consecutive games.

After a six-point first half, Warren went for nine in the third quarter. He made 4-of-6 from the field, including a 3-pointer. That 3, by the way, began a run of three straight Suns possessions with a Warren basket. Also with the hot hand in the period was Booker, who scored seven, giving him a game-high 25 through three quarters of play.

Playing the last 15 minutes of the game, Alec Peters made two of his three shot attempts, including one 3-pointer, for a career-high five points. He had three assists as well, the first three of his career. It was only Peters third-ever NBA game. Peters, on a two-way contract, has been playing with the Northern Arizona Suns of the NBA G League.

THE BAD

How much do the Rockets like the 3-ball? Their first five made field goals were from beyond the arc. Overall, they made seven (on 16 attempts) 3s in the first quarter, the last of which was by P.J. Tucker. His 3-pointer capped a 17-2 close to the period, putting the Rockets ahead 27-23. Gerald Green had a game-high eight points on 2-of-3 shooting and three free throws in the quarter.

It was all Booker in the second quarter. And yes, that’s not a good thing; not when he goes for 13 and the Suns are still outscored by nine (30-21). While Booker shot the ball well—he was 5-of-8—his teammates did not. Those not named Booker were a combined 3-of-16 from the field. Bender, Daniels and Warren were the only other Suns players to make a basket in the period.

Less than three minutes into the third quarter and the Rockets went up 20, which at that point was their largest lead of the game. It was a Paul 19-foot step-back jump shot that made it 66-46 at the 9:27 mark. Paul scored six of the Rockets’ first nine points. He finished with 12 on 5-of-8 shooting. He also had three assists, so of the 33 points scored by the Rockets, Paul accounted for 20.

STAT OF THE GAME, part I

53-38: The Rockets were a plus-15 on the boards, including a 14-4 advantage in offensive rebounds

STATE OF THE GAME, part II

19: One game after a season-low nine turnovers, the Suns committed 19, which led to the Rockets scoring 21 points

HE SAID IT

“I think getting out-rebounded was a big thing,” interim head coach Jay Triano said. “There are going to be long rebounds with the number of 3s. They shot 47 3s, we know that, so you just have to get better at chasing them. We weren’t as good securing defensive rebounds. We shot 46-percent, we assisted on 27-of-37 field goals. Our turnovers hurt us as well.”

NOTED

Bender, who scored 20 points on Sunday, has now recorded consecutive scoring games of 10-plus points for the second time in his career.

Warren, who shot 10-of-17 from the field including one made 3-pointer, has now recorded 20-plus points eight times over his last 10 games.

Chriss, who never missed a game in college, missed the first game of his NBA career, snapping a consecutive games streak of 124 games.

Canaan, who was with the Rockets earlier this year, had hoped to play against this former team; instead, he missed his third straight game.

The Rockets also played without Tarik Black (eye), Luc Mbah a Moute (shoulder), Nene (knee), Troy Williams (knee) and Zhou Qi (elbow).

It was “Decade Night” as the Suns honored their teams of the 1990s; the first 5,000 fans received an exclusive Charles Barkley bobblehead.

As part of “Decade Night” the Suns held a halftime ceremony honoring the 25th anniversary of the 1992-93 Western Conference Champions.

Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Archie Bradley was among those in attendance; invited by the Suns, he had seats near center court.

Also at the game were Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson; both were sitting courtside.

UP NEXT

The three-game homestand ends with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis of the Indiana Pacers making their one and only appearance in the Valley on Sunday, Jan. 14. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

The Suns and Pacers split their two meetings last season with the Suns winning in Indiana, fueled by an NBA season-high 78 bench points, the team’s most in a game since 1995.

Overall, the Suns have won 16 of the last 23 matchups in the series.

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