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Balanced offensive first half not enough for Suns to beat Rockets

Phoenix Suns' Josh Jackson, left, and Houston Rockets' Chris Johnson scramble for the ball during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 10, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS — The Phoenix Suns couldn’t have had a more different two games to start Summer League, and on Monday, it was a mix of the two.

It started with a fantastic effort against the Sacramento Kings that was followed by a sluggish performance facing the Dallas Mavericks.

On Monday, the effort and ball movement was there, but the Houston Rockets’ 60 points in the middle quarters and the 41 points for Phoenix in the second half led to a 99-94 loss.

Until the issues in the second half, the Suns were having their best offensive outing in Vegas.

Four of five Suns’ starters were in double figures by halftime.

Josh Jackson was one of those four, ending the game with 20 points.

Jackson appears to be focusing on his jumper, showing off his very sound handle and shake to create space. Despite the way his form looks, it’s hard to ignore how confident he is making moves like this.

The goal, of course, is opening up Jackson’s full game, where his well-noted attacking and playmaking for his teammates can get more chances to shine.

“Once I knock down my outside shot, I feel like the defender has to respect it a little bit more and then it opens it up for me to do what I’m really great at which is getting to the the basket,” Jackson said.

The first-round pick duo from 2016 that struggled Sunday played better the following day.

Marquese Chriss’ relentless motor benefitted him greatly Monday. He remained active around the rim, finishing with 26 points including a 13-of-16 record from the free-throw line.

The second-year player looked like he’s added more weight. He declined to state the number he’s at, joking that it’s private, but he’s noticing where it’s helping him.

“(It’s) keeping myself more stable, being a little bit harder to move,” Chriss said.

With the 20-year-old reaching double-digit free throws just once last season, it’s something that should become much more prominent in his game in the future.

Dragan Bender enjoyed his best spurt of the week in the first half, scoring 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.

A sequence in that quarter defined how many ways he can contribute.

He had a nice assist to Chriss from the high post, then very good post defense on Houston’s Zhou Qi and ended the three-possession run with an offensive rebound tip-in.

Tally on two confident makes from three-point range and you’ve got a great half for the Croatian.

He wasn’t able to finish strong, but it was at least the flash most have been desperate to see out of the No. 4 pick from last year’s draft.

ANOTHER SECOND-ROUND STEAL?

The most perplexing part of watching the Summer Suns through three games has been trying to figure out how Davon Reed does not become a successful role player.

Reed plays with pace consistently and has the body to do it. He’s rarely not staying in front of his man, always runs for transition opportunities as soon as there’s a miss or turnover and never even thinks for a split-second about hesitating when he’s attacking off the dribble.

The mentality meshes well with his skill.

He’s shown the foot speed and body movement to defend well on the perimeter, has a solid handle to score and had some nice finishes around the rim, including a few lovely looking euro-step moves and a floater.

That’s not to mention his shooting, which was his primary attribute tagged to his profile as a second-round prospect after he shot 39.5 percent from deep in four years at Miami.

Reed looked very comfortable shooting off the catch in the three games.

All of this adds up to a player who will bounce very well off whoever he’s playing with and you couldn’t ask for a better match off the bench than Alan Williams and particularly Tyler Ulis, who will thrive off Reed’s aggressive but composed play on both ends.

Reed wasn’t ranked in the thirties by nearly anyone before the draft, making his selection at No. 32 seen as a bit of a surprise and a reach. It’s only a brief look thus far, but Reed has all the makings of a quality contributor for years to come on the wing.

Follow Kellan Olson on Twitter

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