Eager to showcase energy, Rockets host Suns

In the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the youthful Houston Rockets were at their very best, taking full advantage of their vim and vigor to erase an early nine-point deficit.

That the Rockets, laden with high flyers buoyed by seemingly boundless athleticism, don’t always perform in such a manner remains a mystery. But for 12 minutes, they provided a glimpse of their potential when there is an unyielding commitment to playing at a frenetic pace.

Houston earned its fourth consecutive home win by surprising the Bucks 97-92. Although the Rockets sealed the victory by outscoring Milwaukee 23-13 in the fourth quarter, they worked their way back into contention with their 31-point second that featured eight fast break points, six points off four Milwaukee turnovers and 60 percent shooting from inside the 3-point arc.

The Rockets, who will host the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday in the second of seven consecutive home games, concluded the weekend ranked 15th in pace, a middling number for the second-youngest roster in the league. Against Milwaukee, the Rockets changed the tenor of the game by running and dunking with an enthusiasm that was overtly contagious.

“We’ve got to play faster,” Rockets assistant coach John Lucas said. “We’ve got to get some easy points and that happens by us getting the pace up. And what makes it happen for us is when we get steals. We can get out and show our athleticism.

“Jalen (Green) and Scoot (Kevin Porter Jr.) can really get up and down the floor, and then you add KJ (Martin) and Jabari (Smith Jr.), and we’ve got good speed. Eric Gordon trailing, that gives us great spacing on the court.”

Green posted a game-high 30 points plus seven rebounds in the win and is averaging 25.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 10 home games. His elevated play at Toyota Center has been a boon to the Rockets.

The Suns, meanwhile, dropped their fourth consecutive game on Sunday, losing the second of back-to-back contests against the New Orleans Pelicans 129-124 in overtime. While Phoenix guard Devin Booker (hamstring) missed his first game and is listed as day-to-day, the Suns’ issues began with Booker on the court, notably in a one-point home loss to Houston on Dec. 2.

Phoenix had won six straight before Houston pulled off the shocker. Since then, the Suns have been unhinged, suffering blowout losses to the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics before dropping a pair in New Orleans that knocked them down in the Western Conference standings.

Ranked 12th in defensive rating, the Suns have yet to validate their reputation for might on that end of the court. The Pelicans scorched Phoenix with 41 points in the third quarter on Sunday.

“They’re an offensive team that plays in the paint and they did what they wanted to in the third,” Suns coach Monty Williams said of the Pelicans. “But it’s something that we have to take personally. Thirty-point quarters happen just because of the pace, but when you get to 40 that’s just a lot of breakdowns on defense.”

–Field Level Media