PREVIEW: Suns at Rockets- Dec. 13

Oct 30, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) guards Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. (3) during the second half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Suns at Rockets- Dec. 13

After Sunday’s win over the Bucks, the Rockets continue their season-long seven-game home stand when the Phoenix Suns visit Toyota Center on Tuesday night. It will be the third and final time the two teams will meet in the regular season. The Rockets came from behind to win in Phoenix on Dec. 2 after the Suns scored a blowout win in October.

Eye on the Suns

Record: 16-11 (Fourth in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 116.4 (2nd)

Defensive rating (rank): 111.6 (12th)

The Suns arrive at the Toyota Center losers of four in a row and will be without leading scorer Devin Booker for a second straight game due to a hamstring injury. Booker is averaging 27.4 points per game this season on 48% shooting, and he scored 41 points against the Rockets on Dec. 2. Without Booker on Sunday, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton combined to score 55 points. Former Rocket Chris Paul scored just six points in 34 minutes in New Orleans in that game, and for the season, the 37-year-old is averaging a career-low 9.9 points per game on 38% shooting.

Matchup to watch: Alperen Sengun vs Deandre Ayton

Ayton is Phoenix’s second-leading scorer at 17.5 points per game, and he should factor heavily in the Suns’ offense without Booker. The Rockets limited him to eight points on 4-of-7 shooting when they played earlier this month, and Ayton missed the October matchup. Sengun wasn’t effective in that December game, but they’ll need him with Ayton likely the Suns’ top offensive option. No one is expecting Sengun to shut down the top pick of the 2018 draft, but he will force Ayton to have to play defense, and that could lead to foul trouble, and if Ayton is off the floor, the Suns could struggle to find offense.

What I’m watching for

The Rockets might’ve played their best defensive game of the season on Sunday against Milwaukee. They held the Bucks to 92 points and stayed locked in and focused for 48 minutes. Can they do that in back-to-back games? As is common with young teams, that’s been a struggle. Look no further than last week when the Rockets beat James Harden, Joel Embiid, and the Sixers in double overtime on Monday, only to come out flat and lose to a Spurs team that had lost 11 straight games on Thursday. The Suns enter Tuesday’s game with the NBA’s second-best offense, but they are a poor offense when Booker is off the floor. The Suns score 119.8 points per 100 possessions with Booker and 105.5 points per 100 possessions without him, so it would be a disappointment if the Rockets take a step back at the defensive end.

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