Preview: Suns (30-21) at Kings (16-32)

Suns 114, Kings 102

Suns

Kings

Four in a row? All against winning teams? And three straight on the road?

Did I sleepwalk my way into a Delorean with Marty McFly and take a trip back to November?

Although that would be interesting, it seems I have in fact not gone back in time.

Great Scott! That means the Suns are playing good basketball again! And they aren’t just playing good basketball, they are playing their best basketball.

Amare Stoudemire has turned it on despite constant trade rumors, averaging more than 25 points per game over the last four games and 13.3 rebounds over the last three (that coming after a dazzling one-rebound performance against Dallas). This is the Stoudemire the Suns need around all the time. If he can score and rebound consistently, the Suns are a different team.

With the center tag team of Robin Lopez and Channing Frye playing well, the Suns seem to have stopped worrying and just playing good basketball.

Snapping Denver’s nine-game home winning streak was a big boost for the Suns, despite the fact that Carmelo Anthony didn’t play. You could say the Suns are on a roll. That’s why winning tonight in Sacramento could be the most important game of this road trip.

The once-promising Kings are no longer flirting with .500. In fact, they can’t even smell .500. However, this season the Kings have been able to challenge the Suns in both meetings. The Suns won the first game in Phoenix by eight points and the second game in Sacramento by just four.

I’m almost certain that Suns coach Alvin Gentry would say this is your standard trap game. With everything going so well right now, it would be easy to get complacent and lose to a 16-32 team. It’s on both Gentry and the players to make sure the focus is there despite the Kings’ impressive mediocrity.

Steve Nash seems to have the Kings figured out. He dropped 32 points and six assists on them in Phoenix and 30 points and 12 assists on them in Sacramento. If Nash has another one of those games and Stoudemire continues as he has the past four games — I don’t even have to say it, you already know.

One reason that might explain the Kings’ ability to play the Suns close despite losing 16 of their last 18 games is this: defense. First, the Suns don’t really do it that well (stop the presses!) and the Kings have guys that can score. Kevin Martin is averaging 21.4 points per game despite missing two-thirds of the season thus far, but he can be inconsistent. Luckily for the Kings they’ve got stud rookie Tyreke Evans, who is adding 20.7 points and 5.0 assists per game.

Beyond Evans and Martin, the Kings have players like Omri Casspi (who may miss this game with a stomach virus), Beno Udrih and Andres Nocioni who can go off on any given night with a big contribution. By the way, the Kings take home the trophy for NBA team with the most difficult to pronounce names — Ime Udoka’s in there, too.

However, there are plenty of teams with multiple players who can score that the Suns beat with ease. So second on the defensive front is Sacramento’s ability to play it. It feels funny to say that about a team that has won just three games since Christmas, but in this case there may be something to it.

The Kings are holding opponents to an average of 5.7 three-pointers per game, which is fifth-best in the NBA. In their first game against the Kings, the Suns shot 45.8 percent from deep, but in their next meeting they shot just 33.3 percent.

Maybe you can credit the poor three-point shooting in the second game to the Suns’ struggles over that stretch, but it’s fair to say the Suns have lived and died by the deep ball all season. Any team that can control the Suns’ long range shooting has at least a chance.

The Suns have a very difficult February ahead of them. In fact, I wrote in my preseason predictions that February marked the Suns’ most crucial stretch of the season. They have passed the test so far, but they have to keep it going. This month could still make or break the Suns’ season.

Tags: Phoenix Suns Sacramento Kings

comments powered by Disqus