HOUSTON (AP) — The Phoenix Suns have been looking for Eric Bledsoe to attack more as they try to make a late push for a playoff spot.
Bledsoe answered that call Saturday night, scoring a career-high 34 points to help the Suns withstand a fourth-quarter charge by the Houston Rockets in a 117-102 victory.
The win left Phoenix 2 1/2 games out of eighth place in the Western Conference with 12 remaining.
“I told him, he’s got to be more aggressive for us if we are going to make this playoff push,” teammate P.J. Tucker said. “We need him to be aggressive on offense and defense because that pushes our team and it gets everybody else open.”
Bledsoe agreed and said he’s made a conscious effort to do it.
“At the end of the day it’s on me because I have the ball the whole game … and when I play a little passive, that’s when I get turnovers,” Bledsoe said. “When I’m aggressive and going to the rim, I find guys and I play without thinking a lot.”
Bledsoe scored 23 by halftime and surpassed his previous career best of 33 points, set earlier this season, on a free throw with about a minute remaining.
Phoenix led by 15 early in the fourth quarter when Houston used a 14-4 run, with five points from Josh Smith, to cut it to 105-100 with 5 minutes left. The Suns missed seven shots and turned it over three times as their big lead dwindled.
Neither team had scored for about 2 1/2 minutes when Tucker made a 3-pointer, starting a 12-0 spurt by the Suns that pushed their lead to 117-100 and secured the victory.
Donatas Motiejunas had 18 points for Houston, and James Harden added 16 after scoring a career-high 50 in Thursday’s win over Denver.
“They gave us a chance, but we got so many empty possessions on the offensive end where we couldn’t turn corners or make plays,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “They punched us around on the boards and we couldn’t keep them off the boards. We just didn’t play very well.”
Phoenix’s victory snapped a three-game winning streak for Houston and allowed the Suns to avoid a season sweep by the Rockets.
Three free throws by Harden put Houston up 73-69 early in the third quarter. The Suns then scored 11 straight points, the first seven from Tucker, to take an 80-73 lead with 7 1/2 minutes left in the period.
Houston had scored five quick points to get within four when Harden was shaken up after taking an inadvertent elbow to the chin on an offensive foul by Markieff Morris. Harden remained face down on the court for a minute before slowly getting up and remaining in the game.
Bledsoe took over for the Suns after that, outscoring Houston 7-0 in the next minute and a half to extend Phoenix’s lead to 91-80.
“We didn’t play any defense today at all,” Houston’s Trevor Ariza said. “We pretty much just let them do everything they wanted for three quarters and at the last minute we tried to step up.”
Marcus Morris grabbed a bad pass by Harden, and Archie Goodwin finished on the other end with a dunk to make it 97-84 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.
The Suns led 99-86 entering the fourth.
The Rockets led by four at the end of the first quarter and scored the first six points of the second to push their lead to 43-33. They were up by 12 a couple of minutes later when Phoenix scored 11 straight points, with five from Marcus Morris, to get to 50-49.
Bledsoe led the way with eight points in a 12-7 spurt the Suns used to close out the first half and take a 62-61 lead into halftime.
Suns: Phoenix signed G A.J. Price to a 10-day contract. … C Alex Len returned after missing two games with a sprained right ankle.
Rockets: Joey Dorsey started in place of F Terrence Jones, out indefinitely after suffering a partially collapsed lung in Thursday’s game. … G Jason Terry returned after missing the previous two games with a sore left hamstring.
Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek on his team’s defense: “I hate to say it, but when our guys score we seem to play better defense. I almost wish we would not score and play great defense and get away with it.”
Suns: Host Dallas on Sunday.
Rockets: Visit Indiana on Monday.
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