Suns look for bounce-back effort vs. Rockets

Despite a first half defined by injuries and an inability to get their full complement of players together on the court for an extended period, the Phoenix Suns entered the All-Star break having won 5 of 6 games while seemingly generating momentum for the stretch run.

And, despite playing without guard Bradley Beal for the 26th time, the Suns appeared to have that momentum intact while building an 11-point lead over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.

But Phoenix surrendered a 33-9 run bridging the middle two periods, including the first 16 points of the third quarter, en route to a 123-113 loss. The Suns will stay on the road to complete a back-to-back set on Friday when they face the Houston Rockets

Including an upcoming Sunday home game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix will play three games in four days coming out of the break.

Beal sat out in Dallas on Thursday, and his status for the Rockets game was undetermined. He did participate in practice on Wednesday and appears primed for a return soon from both a hamstring injury and a broken nose for which he underwent surgery during the break.

“It’s been a tough run for him,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said of Beal. “But credit to him. He battled through all of it.

“I know he was getting treatment on (the hamstring). They were managing that and testing it throughout the break.”

The Suns dropped to 14-12 without Beal with the loss to the Mavericks. His frequent absences have made it impossible to gauge how much of a threat Phoenix might pose this postseason.

The Rockets welcomed back veteran guard Fred VanVleet to the starting lineup on Thursday, but his presence did little to reverse their road woes as Houston emerged from the All-Star break with a 127-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Rockets have dropped seven consecutive road games and 6 of 7 overall. VanVleet, who missed five games due to an adductor injury, played for the first time since Feb. 2. He shot 2 of 8 and committed four turnovers while pairing seven points with six assists in 30 minutes.

VanVleet wasn’t the only Houston starter to struggle against the Pelicans.

Jalen Green missed 11 of 14 shots and scored 10 points. Starting forwards Jabari Smith Jr. and Dillon Brooks combined for 16 points. Alperen Sengun posted 20 points and nine rebounds but was outplayed by Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (20 points, 14 rebounds). Aside from rookie Amen Thompson scoring a career-high 22 points, little went right for Houston.

The Rockets allowed New Orleans to shoot 52.1 percent, and Houston committed 24 turnovers that yielded 34 points. The Pelicans scored 29 points in transition and 62 points in the paint. There was little VanVleet could singularly do to stall the team’s ongoing defensive woes.

“He was a little rusty, you could tell,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said of VanVleet. “They put some bigger bodies on him and took away some of his looks. But when he made the right read, their length kind of bothered him as well with the turnovers.

“Not just Fred, our starters weren’t as sharp as we needed them to be.”

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