PHOENIX — It’s hard to classify the eighth game of an 82-game schedule as crucial.
But after glancing at the Suns’ upcoming schedule, that’s exactly what Friday’s game is.
Next week Phoenix plays two sets of back-to-back games against arguably four of the top 10 teams in the NBA (Lakers, Nuggets, Heat and Magic).
But for a squad that has yet to find its identity, a matchup with the Kings might be just what the doctor ordered before facing a gauntlet of title contenders.
“We’re a team that’s trying to find ourselves,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “We’ve been in all the games and had an opportunity to win but it’s something you’ve got to learn by trial and error.”
And for the Suns, that process comes down to fixing two areas that have plagued the team throughout its first seven games: turnovers and rebounding.
“The biggest thing for us is as we get more cohesive, we are going to have less turnovers,” Steve Nash said. “It remains to be seen about the rebounding. We have to scrap and everybody on the court is going to have to take a little bit more pride in rebounding.”
Phoenix’s turnover ratio (percentage of possessions that result in a turnover) is No. 25 in the league at 26.8 percent, while the Suns’ rank No. 28 in rebounding differential.
“We’re [doing a good job at] stopping their initial offensive effort but they are getting rebounds and that’s where you get yourself in trouble,” Gentry said. “[And] you just can’t defend a turnover, because most the time they are going to have numbers.”
The Kings are averaging just over 16 fast-break points per game this season but are coming off an 98-89 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in which they allowed a career-high 42 points to Michael Beasley.
Leading Sacramento with just under 20 points per game is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans.
Six Kings, however, average double-digit points, including first-round draft pick DeMarcus Cousins.
As far as the Suns’ lineup goes, Gentry is not ready to make any judgments so early into the season.
“We’ve considered everything but I don’t think after seven games you can make [those] decisions,” Gentry said. ” We’ve got to be a little patient.”
It’s been a struggle thus far for Robin Lopez.
Watching him through the preseason and through the early stages of the regular season, it’s clear he’s still not comfortable after last March’s back injury.
“Robin is still trying to get back to himself physically,” Nash said. “He’s not moving the same as he did last year. He’s not covering the same amount of ground and that takes time. We have to be patient with him.”
But patience has to turn into production at some point. And as long as the center is still struggling to find his form, the Suns will suffer along with him.
“It might be causing me to think too much,” Lopez said. “I’m not quite as explosive as I was last season. I need to start getting to the boards again. I’m getting my hands on them; I just need to come down with them.”
The third-year player is averaging just 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds this season and it is clear his development has stalled almost completely.
“We’ve got to get him back; he was a lot more athletic last year and was able to finish,” Gentry said. “For us to have a successful season, Robin is going to be a big part of it.”
Lopez blames some of his subpar performance on the variety of defenders he’s faced.
“The last time I came back we we’re just playing against the Lakers and that’s just one team, one look,” Lopez said. “You don’t know what different teams are going to throw at you.”