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ROCKETS TRY TO STAY HOT IN PHOENIX
Tue, 05 Apr 2011 01:12 PM EDT

HOUSTON ROCKETS (33-32)

at PHOENIX SUNS (32-29)

Tip-off: Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. EDT
Line: Phoenix -5, Total: 216.5

Even with the nagging injuries and everything else that goes along with the dog days of March, both Phoenix and Houston are turning it on for the stretch run. Both teams are on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff picture, but have turned it on since the All-Star break. Houston has won seven of eight SU (6-2 ATS in that span) while the Suns have won five of seven SU and ATS.

Phoenix has dominated this series of late, winning six in a row, SU and ATS, over the Rockets, topping 110 points in every one of those games. Steve Nash has always played in big part in those wins. Over the past three seasons, spanning eight games, he’s averaging 20.4 PPG on 50.9% FG (54.2% 3-pt FG) and 12.1 APG against the Rockets. Basketball lines.

How effective Nash can be for the rest of this season is the question. He’s been suffering from a “pelvis injury” which is limiting his movement. While Phoenix has played well since the break, Nash has not, averaging just 9.6 PPG on 36.1% shooting and a miserable 15.8% clip from behind the arc. The Suns will also be without stretch big man Channing Frye (shoulder), who had been shooting very well since the break (44.7% from three). A balanced attack led by a couple of additions from December’s trade with Orlando have been carrying the team through this recent strong stretch. Marcin Gortat is averaging 15.7 PPG on 56.8% shooting and 9.4 RPG, while defensive specialist Mickael Pietrus is averaging 12.7 PPG, hitting 44.1% of his threes.

While the Suns have injury issues, fatigue will likely play a role for Houston, which just played at Sacramento Monday night. The Rockets have gelled nicely of late, possibly because of trading moody point guard Aaron Brooks to the Suns at the deadline. Kevin Martin is averaging 22.0 PPG since the break and is getting to the line on a regular basis, where he is shooting 93.1% over the past eight games. Houston has also gotten a boost from swingman Chase Budinger, who moved into the starting lineup six games ago. Since the break, he’s averaging 17.3 PPG and had posted a plus/minus of +23 in each of the past two games, lopsided wins over the Pacers and Kings. Houston has now won seven of eight SU on the road, covering the spread in six of those wins. Basketball betting lines.

The Suns’ ability to get hot from three certainly gives them a certain amount of volatility, but between Nash’s nagging injury and the absence of Frye, I don’t think they have enough to pull away from the red-hot Rockets. My pick is Houston.

Among other trends, the FoxSheets point out that you should respect the Rockets’ recent surge:

Play On – Road underdogs of 3.5 to 9.5 points (HOUSTON) – hot team – having won 6 or 7 of their last 8 games, with a winning percentage of between 45-55% on the season. (67-33 over the last 5 seasons, 67%, +30.7 units. Rating = 2*).

I’m also expecting the total to go Over, with this four-star FoxSheets trend concerning Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry.

Gentry is 17-2 OVER (89.5%, +14.8 Units) in home games against Southwest Division opponents as the coach of PHOENIX. The average score was PHOENIX 113.6, OPPONENT 108.9 – (Rating = 4*). Basketball scores.


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