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Preview: Sacramento Kings (12-24) at Phoenix Suns (16-20)

Phoenix Suns 96, Sacramento Kings 88

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PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns are running out of chances to make a run to save their season.

There have been too many losses like the Golden State defeat before the All-Star break — a game that prevented a five-game winning streak after Phoenix’s last few victories — right when the Suns seemed to be gaining steam.

The Suns will aim for only their second three-game winning streak of the season when Sacramento comes to town tonight, and it’s a streak they must obtain if they plan on vaulting into the playoff picture.

This contest against the Kings is one of just five games the rest of the season in which Phoenix will play a squad with a worse record than them. Such is life with an unbalanced schedule and a deep Western Conference, and it means the Suns can no longer afford to stub their toe against teams they are better than, especially at home.

The Suns put together one of their better efforts of the season when they visited Sacramento on Feb. 11, leading throughout during a 98-84 victory in which Phoenix limited the Kings to 35.1 percent shooting.

Grant Hill once again put the clamps on Tyreke Evans, holding him to four points on 1-for-9 shooting after keeping him to an average of 14.0 ppg on 35.1 percent shooting last season.

On the other end, Phoenix made half its shots to cruise to an easy victory. About the only negative from the game came from the Suns yielding 16 offensive boards and losing the rebounding battle despite shooting so much better than Sacramento.

Rebounding has been one of the keys to Phoenix’s two victories after the break, as the Suns outrebounded a pair of top-10 rebounding squads in their wins overs the Wolves and the Clippers.

“We have to become a better rebounding team and do it consistently if we want to try to get back in a position to be in the playoff race or have an opportunity to be a playoff team,” Gentry said. “I just think you’ve got to be able to rebound it if you’re going to have a chance to be in the playoffs. There are very few bad rebounding teams in the playoffs.”

The Kings rank just 22nd in rebound rate, two slots ahead of Phoenix, but DeMarcus Cousins is the third-best rebounder in the game (with a rebound rate of 21.2) and he’s an absolute bear on the offensive glass with a offensive rebound rate of 16.3 (fourth in the NBA).

Cousins is coming off his best month as a pro after averaging 19.0 and 12.3 in February, and he’s a guy who has given Phoenix trouble before with a 26-9 game in their first meeting this season and 28-8-6 and 17-7-8 games last season.

If the Suns can hold Cousins in check they have a great shot at their second three-game winning streak of the season being that the Kings are an awful road team (they have won just four of 22 away from California’s capital) and boast the league’s 25th-ranked offense and 28th-ranked defense.

However, as Marcin Gortat warned after Friday’s win, the Suns have suffered many a home letdown right when things seemed to be clicking.

“We’ve had situations where we’ve won two, three games in a row and later on we’ve come in from shootaround relaxed, we’re not really focused and all of a sudden we get punked at home again by 20 or 30 points,” Gortat said. “The most important thing for us is don’t get excited, just stay focused on everything that we do, just play hard and make sure we take care of business at home.”

And 1

  • After the Clippers game I asked Gortat why he’s optimistic this Suns team can make a run. His response: “I think we’re a really talented team. We have a lot of good players, and I think our system is perfect. We’ve got the best point guard in the league who can make the best decisions in the league, you’ve got a center who’s rolling to the basket and you’ve got shooters all over the place, so I can’t imagine why the system couldn’t work.”
  • The Suns have added longtime NBA player Lindsey Hunter to their scouting staff. He will assess talent in the NBA, D-League and college. “We are very fortunate to have a proven champion like Lindsey on our scouting staff,” GM Lance Blanks said in a release. “With ownership’s support we are continually making investments in our future and having someone of Lindsey’s caliber to help us evaluate players and make informed personnel choices will be invaluable.”

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