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Reply To: NBA • Friday Service Plays • 2/19/16

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Preview: Houston At Phoenix

When: 9:30 PM ET, Friday, February 19, 2016
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona

The Houston Rockets have been underachievers through the first two-thirds of the NBA season and aim to begin a turnaround when they visit the Phoenix Suns on Friday. Houston has looked nothing like the squad that reached the Western Conference finals last season, but All-Star guard James Harden is one of several players saying the season can be saved with a strong finishing kick.

The Rockets limped into the All-Star break with three straight losses by an average of 14.3 points and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff referred to the team as “broken.” That prompted a series of meetings, including one only open to players, as the organization tries to pinpoint what has been the issue. “It’s not over – we still have 27 games left, so that’s what we’re focusing on and we’re working on, to do better than what we did in the first half,” small forward Trevor Ariza told reporters. “I still like our chances to get to where we need to get to. Anything can happen.” Phoenix has lost nine consecutive games and 15 of its last 16 and shook things up at Thursday’s trading deadline by dealing disgruntled power forward Markieff Morris to the Washington Wizards for forward Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair and a future first-round draft pick.

TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, ROOT (Houston), FSN Arizona (Phoenix)

ABOUT THE ROCKETS (27-28): Center Dwight Howard was reportedly available to interested suitors but nothing materialized, and he will be with Houston for at least the rest of this season. Howard hasn’t always meshed well with Harden despite last season’s deep postseason run and he says he is just focusing on finishing strong this season. “I’m going to stay positive and continue to push that message of positivity around the team,” Howard told reporters. “There’s no need to be negative, no need to think about anything that happened in the first half of the season. That’s over with. We have to clear our minds of that and come back in the second half of the season and be great.”

ABOUT THE SUNS (14-40): The play of shooting guard Devin Booker has been one of the few bright spots and the rookie has scored in double digits in 12 of the past 13 games. The season-ending knee injury suffered by Eric Bledsoe fast-forwarded his timetable and he has been up to the task, and former Suns star Steve Nash took time to talk to Booker during the All-Star festivities in Toronto. “Steve told me to just keep working,” Booker told reporters. “To keep my head on straight, just keep working and always get better through the process.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Rockets have won six of the past seven meetings, including a 111-105 victory on Feb. 4.

2. Houston dealt SG Marcus Thornton and PF Donatas Motiejunas to Detroit for a first-round pick as part of a three-team deal in which Pistons C Joel Anthony ended up with the Philadelphia 76ers.

3. Morris averaged 19.3 points over his final six games with the team but had an in-game incident in which he shoved G Archie Goodwin during Phoenix’s final contest before the All-Star break.

PREDICTION: Rockets 110, Suns 105