Preview: Phoenix Suns (36-36) at Sacramento Kings (20-52)

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Sacramento Kings 116, Phoenix Suns 113

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PHOENIX — As the Phoenix Suns begin their 10-game de facto exhibition season Tuesday night in Sacramento, they can look across the court at one of the visual reminders of why they’re in this situation.

The Suns are responsible for two of Sacramento’s 20 wins, games that a playoff team can’t afford to lose.

The most crushing one occurred right in this very building on Jan. 2 when the Suns blew a 12-point lead with under six minutes to go as DeMarcus Cousins sparked the Kings to a 19-2 run. Then on Feb. 13 in US Airways Center the Suns just could not stop a Cousins-less Sacto squad that scored 35 points on 63.2 percent shooting in the fourth to thwart a Suns rally that seemed inevitable.

There were many other such demoralizing losses but few hurt as much as these two against the West’s second-worst team.

While the Suns are struggling a bit with losses in two straight and three of four, the Kings actually come into this one hot with wins in three straight and four of five on their just completed Eastern road trip.

It’s sure to be a raucous atmosphere with the city of Sacramento striving to save their Kings, and the Suns could be in for a letdown following Sunday’s realization that, as Gortat put it, it doesn’t look like “we’re going to be talking about playoffs this year anymore.”

The Kings have known that about themselves since November, yet they finally started to build a little momentum on this past road trip, with Marcus Thornton scorching the nets to give them a new dimension at the shooting guard spot.

I look forward to seeing whether the Suns play with the same kind of zest they did during their last spirited road trip in Los Angeles or whether they play like they’ve thrown in the towel.

The Suns have already made a starting lineup switch that they plan to continue using by inserting Gortat and Jared Dudley into the first unit for Robin Lopez and Vince Carter. Gortat and Dudley figure to be starters (or at least key rotation players) next season while Carter has 10 games left in a Suns uniform and Lopez could be moved as well.

In these final 10 games I’d like to see more Josh Childress so the organization has a better grip on whether he can be the player they thought they signed and more Aaron Brooks so the Suns can figure out whether he really does have point guard of the future potential or whether he’s a sunk cost they should let go of.

“For us it’s not only finishing it up the right way, it’s getting ready for next year,” Dudley said. “A lot of people are under contract. I signed my extension, obviously a couple guys here, Gortat’s still here. We’re trying to build if we don’t get to the playoffs for next year, what guys are going to be here, how we’re going to build for next year, make that huge leap.”

With the Suns firmly established as a .500 team 72 games into the season, the best they can hope for at this point is bringing positive vibes into 2011-12 along with a better plan for next offseason than they had during the last one.

And 1

Nick Ketner won the third annual Bounce with the Suns contest by dribbling a basketball for 44 hours and 47 minutes. Pretty impressive, as I remember the first year’s contest ending just a few hours after the night’s Suns game after an early morning start, and I’m not sure if I could do anything consecutively for almost 45 hours without sleep. Ketner will get to travel on a road trip with the Suns next season after outlasting 46 other participants.

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