Rockets staying focused against league dregs
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HOUSTON -- On the opposite end of the spectrum from the tanking Suns and Grizzlies, from the Mavericks, Kings, Hawks, Magic and Bulls stand the Rockets, whose league-best record is borne of equal parts exceptional roster construction and undeniable professionalism.
The Rockets (61-14) will cap a five-game homestand Friday at Toyota Center against the Phoenix Suns (19-57) seeking to extend their winning streak to 11 games. They have handled business against the dregs of the NBA who preceded the Suns on this homestand, walloping the Hawks and Bulls by an average margin of 25.5 points and doing so by playing with a vim that eludes some front-running teams as the regular season winds down and the playoffs beckon.
"As a veteran group that's what we're supposed to do," Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said. "I think we're supposed to play the same way every game no matter who the opponent is because at the end of the day it's never about the other team for us. Our mindset always has to be it's about us.
"We police each other. We police our team and we make sure that we stay locked in to what we're doing."
The Rockets were without All-Star guard James Harden and center Clint Capela against the Bulls as both rested. It did not matter as Houston led by as many as 40 points in the 118-86 win.
Both are slated to return against the Suns, although reserve forward Luc Mbah a Moute (knee) is questionable as is Chris Paul (left hip) and Ariza (right elbow contusion).
But even while resting regulars in advance of the playoffs, the Rockets have maintained a laser-sharp focus. With their regular-season goals already met -- Houston is on the brink of clinching home-court advantage throughout the postseason -- the Rockets long to stay sharp.
"Our main focus is keeping guys healthy and making sure we're ready to go," Harden said. "I think our focus level is always there because, quite frankly, we haven't done anything yet.
"Just making sure that we're healthy and that each guy has a rhythm going into the postseason and that's it. We've been together all year so we know what to expect from each other."
The Suns, meanwhile, are injury-ravaged with no real motivation to rush their regulars back to the court. Phoenix was without Devin Booker (hand), Elfrid Payton (knee), T.J. Warren (knee), Tyson Chandler (neck) and Alex Len (ankle) it its 111-99 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.
With the worst winning percentage in the league, it would behoove the Suns to continue trotting out a series of reserves with prime positioning in the draft lottery on the line.
"We're just trying to make things work, and try to go out there and compete and try to get a win," said Suns guard Tyler Ulis, who scored 23 points in the loss to the Clippers.
The Rockets are seeking a season sweep of the Suns. Houston has averaged 122.3 points in three games against Phoenix this season, posting 90 points in the first half of a 142-116 victory at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Nov. 16 when Paul returned following a 14-game hiatus.
Updated March 29, 2018