Rockets-Suns Preview

BY foxsports • February 18, 2016

Houston's second-half playoff push will happen with Dwight Howard still around, while Phoenix will play out the season devoid of Markieff Morris.

Some fresh faces probably couldn't hurt for the Suns as they return from the All-Star break Friday night hoping to end another lengthy losing streak before it reaches double digits against the visiting Rockets, who entered the eight-day layoff describing themselves as "broken."

After some speculation, Houston (27-28) ended up holding onto Howard through Thursday's trade deadline, and he's now charged with helping to turn things around for the up-and-down Rockets. The team did, however, deal forward/center Donatas Motiejunas and guard Marcus Thornton to Detroit in a three-team trade that also includes Philadelphia.

Houston received a protected 2016 first-round pick from Detroit and the draft rights of forward Chukwudiebere Maduabum from the 76ers in the deal. The Rockets also sent Denver's second-round pick in 2017 to Philadelphia and the 76ers received center Joel Anthony from the Pistons.

The Rockets' three-game losing streak heading into the break had them surpass last season's loss total of 26. A playoff spot was a forgone conclusion at this time last year before marching on to the Western Conference finals, but there was no such optimism after a 116-103 loss in Portland on Feb. 10.

"We're broken. It's that simple," interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "Right now we are a broken team. It's easy to see. It's a fragmented bunch. You can't win that way."

James Harden agreed, despite scoring 34 points with 11 assists and nine rebounds.

"It's frustrating that we're broken," said Harden, who's averaged 34.7 points per game on the skid while making 13 of 27 from 3-point range. "We're just not willing to help each other out."

Howard didn't see the need to lend further support after managing 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting with 13 rebounds.

"I'm not going to talk about what's broken," he said after a third straight double-double while averaging 20.3 points and 14.0 rebounds. "All we do is talk about the issues that we have. Nobody's being positive."

Another matchup with the Suns should change that. Houston preceded the losing streak with a 111-105 victory in Phoenix on Feb. 4 for its fourth straight there as part of a 6-1 span in the series.

The Suns (14-40) have a more drastic losing streaks to worry about with a 112-104 home loss to Golden State giving them their second nine-game skid over an NBA-worst 2-24 span. They last lost 10 straight toward the end of 2012-13 with the Rockets handing them the 10th behind 33 points from Harden. The last five have come at home, which they haven't gone beyond since losing seven straight on the same skid, and interim coach Earl Watson's time in charge has started with those five defeats.

Morris was shipped to Washington on Thursday for a protected first-round draft pick and forwards Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair a week after getting into a physical confrontation with teammate Archie Goodwin.

The forward had regressed greatly this season, averaging 11.6 points in 24.8 minutes while shooting 38.7 percent a season after being at a career-high 15.3 points, 31.5 minutes and 46.5 percent. Morris was also suspended for two games in December after throwing a towel at since-fired coach Jeff Hornacek during a game.

"The season hasn't gone how we thought it would or hoped it could, and we all take responsibility for that," said general manager Ryan McDonough, who will have three first-round picks this year if Washington's isn't higher than No. 10. "I share in the responsibility. But as far as the deal, we think it's a really good deal for us."

Goodwin, meanwhile, is averaging 16.8 points in his last 11 games since entering the starting lineup.

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