In what is one of the purplest matchups in the NBA, the Sacramento Kings come to US Airways Center tonight to take on the Suns.
The Suns are looking to bounce back from embarrassing ugly losses to the Knicks and Cavaliers. The losses were the team’s first consecutive losses since March. Bouncing back against the Kings would seem like a given considering the Suns have won seven straight against them at home and 15 straight at home overall.
US Airways was especially unfriendly to the Kings last season, when the Suns crushed Sacramento in their most lopsided home victory in franchise history last February, a 129-81 humiliation, and followed that up with a 28-point thrashing in April.
But this team isn’t your run-of-the-mill Kings team. Winners of four straight (if you consider Ws over the Knicks, Nets, Hornets and Pacers worth one apiece), the Kings have shown signs that they aren’t the basement dwellers of the Pacific region. They are over .500 and have some of the league’s most underrated players. However, they only have a couple wins worth mentioning — the Rockets and Thunder at home — and just one win on the road.
Steve Nash has routinely dominated the Kings, averaging 23 points and 10.7 assists in three meetings last year, but tonight he faces an intriguing new challenge. With Western Conference Rookie of the Month Tyreke Evans running the Kings’ offense, one of the NBA’s best young point guards meets one of the league’s best veteran point guards. The lottery draft pick out of Memphis is averaging 19.3 points and 4.8 assists per game.
The Suns do catch a break, though, as Sacramento’s leading scorer Kevin Martin (probably one of the league’s least talked about talented players) is rehabbing a fractured wrist.
The Kings’ big men could give the Suns fits, as Spencer Hawes is finally finding his groove. He scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a win over the Pacers on Wednesday after sitting out the previous game with a knee injury. Small forward Andres Nocioni is only averaging 11.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game (kind of disappointing for a guy raking in $7.5 million this season), but he provides a very physical presence on defense that can fluster teams.
The Suns’ last two games exposed a weakness that many believed had been solved to some extent –defense. Defensive troubles are a familiar tune for the Suns, but they appeared to be playing better this season. Then the Knicks — a team with a nearly identical system thanks to Mike D — showed that the Suns’ defense is still their kryptonite.
The Knicks held the Suns to 45.5 percent shooting and an uncharacteristic 23.5 percent on three-pointers, exposing another potential weakness in their over-reliance on deep balls. And led by LeBron James, the potent Cavaliers then dumped the Suns 107-90, the second straight game Phoenix was held under 100 points after scoring at least that many in the team’s first 17 games.
With Leandro Barbosa out due to an ankle sprain, the bench loses an important presence, but as we’ve said over and over, guys like Jared Dudley, Lou Amundson and Goran Dragic have stepped up big this year. The bench is the least of this team’s concerns.
While the Suns look to get back on track before entering one of the most daunting stretches of this season’s schedule, the Kings look to win a fifth consecutive game for the first time in three seasons. With the Lakers, Mavs, Magic and Nuggets waiting next week, this is one the Suns need to take care of.