Faced with trying to end a nine-game losing streak without their top four scorers, the Phoenix Suns made it even harder on themselves without a true center.
Alex Len (right ankle sprain) did not play, while starter Tyson Chandler was lost midway through the second quarter with a sprained right shoulder.
Short-handed and undermanned, the Suns dropped a 116-100 decision to the Houston Rockets in front of an announced Friday night crowd of 17,102 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
James Harden scored a game-high 27, while Trevor Ariza added 25 and Patrick Beverley 18, setting a new season-high, as the Rockets’ starters outscored the Suns’ starters 88-47.
Harden also had 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
The Suns were led in scoring by bench players Mirza Teletovic (25) and Kris Humphries (18), while three starters hit double-digits: Jon Leuer (16), Devin Booker (10) and Archie Goodwin (10).
It was Leuer’s first start since Jan. 12.
Teletovic shot 7-of-12 in his best point-performance of the season.
Humphries, meanwhile, recorded a double-double with a season-best 12 rebounds, becoming the 13th player in team history to achieve a double-double in his Suns debut.
The Suns led after the first quarter and held a three-point advantage six minutes into the second quarter before Chandler walked off the court and into the locker room, where he remained the rest of the game.
Over the next 11 minutes of action, the Suns were outscored 41-13 as the Rockets (28-28) went up 25, 74-49.
Houston led by as many as 27, snapping a three-game losing streak and handing the Suns their season-worst 10th straight loss.
At 14-41, the Suns now own the third-worst record in the NBA.
A 10-2 run put the Suns ahead 24-21 at the close of the first quarter. Teletovic bookended the run with 3s plus added a pair of free throws. He finished the period with a game-high eight points and team-best three rebounds in six minutes of action off the bench. The Suns shot 9-of-21 (42.9 percent) for their first first-quarter lead in four games.
Seven unanswered points gave the Suns a brief 33-29 lead at 8:37 of the second quarter. Humphries started the run with back-to-back made field goals (after four straight misses); first tipping in a Goodwin miss and then nailing a 3 (his 24th successsful triple of the season). Sonny Weems finished the stretch with a one-handed dunk.
For a stretch in the third quarter, the Suns’ five-man unit included Goodwin, Weems, Leuer, Humphries and Jordan McRae, whose 10-day contract expired at game’s end. McRae made the most of his time on the floor with four points in that span and eight by the end of the night, while Goodwin and Humphries each added two as the Suns pulled to within 15, 79-64, at the 2:37 mark.
Though he didn’t score, missing all four of his field goal attempts, including two 3s, Ronnie Price had three assists in 23 minutes in his first game back from toe surgery. Price, who also had a rebound, steal and blocked shot, hadn’t played since Jan. 6 vs. Charlotte, a stretch of 16 games in which the Suns went 1-15.
Eight of the Rockets first 12 points came in the paint with Beverley twice driving the lane for uncontested lay-ups. He added a nine-foot floater to help Houston jump out to an early 12-7 lead at the 7:47 mark. Beverley made three of his five shot attempts to be the team’s high-point (six) man in the period, while adding three rebounds and a steal.
With Harden scoring seven points, Howard six and Ariza five, the Rockets went on a 23-5 run late in the second quarter to take a 56-41 lead—their largest advantage of the half—at the :35.3 mark. The stretch included 10 straight points with a pair of Howard dunks and an Ariza slam. Howard finished with nine points, Arizona 13 in the period.
Once again the Rockets scored 10 straight points, this time as part of a larger 18-4 run to begin the third quarter for a 74-49 lead at the 7:24 mark. Harden had half the points with a 3, lay-up and four free throws. Beverley added six points with a 3, lay-up and one free throw. By the way, the Suns’ four points were matched by their four turnovers.
Speaking of turnovers, the Suns committed 21 for the game, leading to 29 Rockets’ points, tied for the fourth-most by an opponent this season. Leuer coughed the ball up a team-high five times, while Goodwin had four and Teletovic three. The turnovers were almost equally split in half with 11 (15 points) in the first half and 10 (14 points) in the second.
STAT OF THE GAME
56: The Rockets attempted a season-high 56 free throws, tying a season-high by making 35 (62.5 percent); the last time a Suns opponent attempted at least 56 free throws was Jan. 28, 1988, when the Trail Blazers shot 59 in Portland
HE SAID IT
“In the second quarter, their players took over,” interim head coach Earl Watson said, referring to the Rockets’ 35-21 advantage. “The positive for us in the second quarter was Ronnie Price. He came in, he didn’t score, but his impact defensively and on the ball, his presence calmed us and it just shows that we need a point guard on the court constantly. And until we get Brandon Knight back, we have to find ways to stay within the game.”
– Yet another welcome-to-the-NBA-moment for Booker, who was hit with his first-career technical foul at 8:11 of the third quarter.
– This was Len’s fourth game he’s missed this season, having sat out three straight games in mid-January due to a left hand sprain.
– It was the 12th straight game Brandon Knight has missed as he deals with a groin issue that’s kept him sidelined since Jan. 21.
– U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services welcomed 50 new citizens from four different continents during a naturalization ceremony at halftime, marking the first time the “Oath of Allegiance” was administered at an NBA game.
The season-long seven-game homestand concludes with a visit from Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge of the San Antonio Spurs, who make their final appearance in the Valley this season and wrap-up the season series on Sunday, Feb. 21.
Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
The Spurs have won each of the first three meetings, including the most recent matchup in Phoenix on Jan. 12, when the Suns were short-handed as six players missed the game due to injury with a seventh joining those six just minutes into the game.
Booker scored a game-high 24, while Goodwin added a season-high 20 in the 117-89 loss.
Overall, the Spurs are on a six-game winning streak in the series.
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