Both the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets were in desperate need of a confidence boost and got one Friday. Only one of them can keep that momentum going Sunday night at Houston in a rematch of a wild game from earlier this month.
Phoenix (27-21) had lost seven of nine - the only wins came against last-place teams New Jersey and Golden State - entering a matchup with Southwest Division-leading Dallas on Friday. The Suns never led until a 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter, and they held on for a 112-106 victory.
“We just needed something to lift our spirits a little bit,” coach Alvin Gentry said.
The bench provided maybe the biggest lift. Amare Stoudemire didn’t even get on the floor in the fourth quarter because the reserves were playing so well, and fellow All-Star Steve Nash(notes) didn’t have a point or an assist for the first 8 1/2 minutes of the period.
Stoudemire said he was left on the bench in the fourth for “the first time in my life but it’s all good,” and Gentry said it had nothing to do with the forward’s recent admission that trade rumors were distracting him. Stoudemire had 22 points but only one rebound Friday after averaging 14.3 points in his previous three games.
“I wouldn’t read anything into that at all,” Gentry said. “If you go in there he’s the happiest guy. For all that’s been said he’s been a great teammate.”
Stoudemire has scored 48 points in two matchups with Houston this season and the Suns have won both. The most recent meeting saw each team blow a 16-point lead before Phoenix won 118-110 on Jan. 6.
That duo had another big night Friday, with Brooks scoring 33 points and Landry adding 21 to help Houston beat Portland 104-100. The Rockets (25-21) had been 0-3 on their six-game homestand.
A return to their attacking style offensively keyed the win. They attempted a season-high 43 free throws and scored 52 points in the paint. Brooks made 8 of 10 free throws after getting to the foul line five times in the previous three games.
“We can’t be afraid of getting blocked. We’ve got to go in there and try it, just be more aggressive,” Brooks said. “We just need to play to really beat teams, rather than to play not to lose.”
Houston should be able to find holes in a Phoenix defense which has given up at least 105 points in 11 of its last 15 games.
The Suns have scored at least 110 in each of the last four meetings as Nash has averaged 23.8 points and 14.5 assists.
Houston must win to avoid losing the season series with Phoenix, a potential tiebreaker between two teams battling at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture.