Preview: Phoenix Suns (14-17) at Sacramento Kings (6-24)

Sacramento Kings 94, Phoenix Suns 89

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As long as Kings point guard Tyreke Evans isn’t hitting half court shots, the Suns should be able to make it two straight wins Sunday night.

It literally doesn’t get worse than the Kings.

Sacramento got a rare (fluke) win Wednesday over the Grizzlies and fell to the Nuggets on Saturday, but prior to the win over Memphis, hadn’t won since Dec. 8. The Kings six wins have come over opponents with a combined record of 59-139.

Let’s just say there’s a good chance of a No. 1 draft pick in Sacramento’s future.

It certainly needs no reminder though that the other team in purple isn’t having a stellar season either. With a win over the Detroit Pistons on Friday, the Suns notched their 14th win, something they had done by Nov. 29 last season.

The Suns have been spending a lot of (justified) extra time working on defense in practice after an embarrassing loss to the 76ers and, even though it was Detroit, it started to show in Friday’s victory.

Employing a simplified defense, the Suns held the Pistons to 75 points, which is about 20 points fewer than Detroit averages each game. It was also the lowest opponent total for the Suns this season, lowest opponent shooting percentage (40.8) and just the seventh time this season the Suns have held a foe under 100 points.

It’s too early to say if the revert to the simpler defense is going to take the 2010-11 season in a new direction because it was the Pistons, and the same goes for the matchup with the Kings, who have not beat the Suns since March 29, 2009.

Sacramento features a talented collection of individual players who seem unable to play well as a team. It just seems logical that a team led by Tyreke Evans and supported by Carl Landry and DeMarcus Cousins wouldn’t have a problem at least competing, but that’s just not the case.

The Kings had high hopes for their future and those hopes have been obliterated by a season that could very well put former Suns and current Kings coach Paul Westphal out of a job. It may be Westphal who’s unable to get his players to mesh and produce, but it seems like it’s also an issue of personalities and lack of team players.

Despite all the Kings’ problems, they are excelling under the basket. They are the league’s fourth-best rebounding team (43.0 per game), while the Suns are 29th (39.0 per game).

The ever-growing presence of Marcin Gortat in the Suns’ lineup has helped with rebounding, as the big man is adding almost six boards per game off the bench since the Dec. 18 trade. The other non-Vince Carter addition to the team, Mickael Pietrus, has been a boost on defense as well and has contributed a surprising 13.3 points off the bench as a Sun.

Pietrus’ insertion into the starting lineup Friday made for the ninth starting lineup the Suns have used this season. The move, made for defensive reasons against Detroit, will carry over over to Sunday’s game, according to Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic.

The Suns were already struggling to find an identity before making the major trade with the Orlando Magic and had to nearly start the search over after it. Another starting lineup change is certainly part of that process, though it might not stick. The actual (and not pretend) increased emphasis on defense is part of that as well.

The Suns may still take more time than desired to figure out who they are, but a matchup with the Kings should allow a little room to work on that. It gets much tougher after though when the Lakers and Knicks come to Phoenix.

Playing the Kings is no guaranteed win, a lesson the Suns have learned with plenty of teams (76ers, Clippers, Grizzlies…), but it’s about as close as guarantees come in the NBA right now.

And 1

Undrafted rookie center Garret Siler has been assigned to the Iowa Energy of the NBA Developmental League, the Suns announced Sunday.

The 6-foot-11-inch Augusta State product, signed in late September, has totaled 35 minutes of game action this season, averaging 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds per game.

Siler should get a chance to play legitimate minutes with the Energy (11-5) while the Suns are set for size at the moment after the addition of Marcin Gortat from the Orlando Magic, which also led to the release of Earl Barron.

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