The Phoenix Suns recently helped the Houston Rockets inch closer to securing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Now the Rockets look to clinch it Monday by beating a Suns team which has wrapped up the Western Conference’s second seed.
Regardless of the outcome of its final two games, Phoenix (61-19) is guaranteed to finish with NBA’s second-best record after San Antonio lost on Sunday to Dallas—the only team ahead of the Suns in the West standings.
Monday’s game has big implications for the Rockets (51-29), who despite being seeded lower than Northwest Division champion Utah, have a two-game lead over the Jazz for home-court advantage in the first round.
“You don’t want to squander that opportunity,” starting point guard Rafer Alston said. “I know how important it is, because you never know. If it comes down to that last game, you would much rather it be on your court with your fans.”
Houston’s 123-112 win over New Orleans on Saturday combined with the Jazz’s 126-98 loss to Phoenix cut the Rockets’ magic number for wrapping up home-court to one. They’ll clinch it with a win in this game or if Utah loses to Portland on Monday.
Houston plays in Utah on Wednesday to close the regular season and the teams also will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
Though the Rockets have won four straight, Tracy McGrady is concerned the team is not playing as well as it should be with the postseason approaching.
“Right now, we have to be playing our best basketball,” McGrady said. “I still feel like we’re not getting it.”
Houston is second in the league in points allowed at 91.7 per game, but has given up an average of 98.5 over its last eight games.
Yao Ming had 30 points and McGrady added 25 in Saturday’s win for Houston, which had six players score in double figures and shot a season-high 58.3 percent from the field.
While McGrady may not feel the Rockets are playing up to their potential, there’s little doubt the Suns are. Phoenix has won five straight and eight of nine, going 22-6 since the All-Star break to reach 60 wins for the third time in franchise history.
“We have a lot more energy and a lot more consistency,” said Steve Nash, who had 18 assists, 13 points and zero turnovers for the Suns on Saturday. “Everyone feels pretty good about it.”
The Suns haven’t shown any signs of slowing on either end of the court. They’ve scored an average of 110.9 points in the last nine games, and have held the opposition under 100 points in five of six.
“I think that’s what’s most important—to end on an upswing and build some momentum going into the playoffs,” said Raja Bell, who had 18 points Saturday.
The Suns have won the last six matchups against the Rockets, including three this season. Phoenix won 103-82 on March 12 with Leandro Barbosa scoring 32 points, while Yao was held to 10 points and McGrady 19 as Houston’s star duo shot 9-of-37 from the field.
The Suns are seeking their second straight season sweep of the Rockets.