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.”

  • And1

    Who ever voted to trade Nash and rebuild are bunch of Losers. Nash is a winner and I’m sticking with him. Losers quit easy and pulls a LBJ.

    And if you think Nash deserves to win a championship with another team doesn’t know Nash. He’d rather lose in this team rather than win a ring in another. That’s what a winner mentality is all about.

    Add a piece in their. Aaron Brooks come back.

  • Scott

    @And1 -

    I think Suns fans are a bit spoiled with great PG play. Over the last 20ish years, the Suns have had KJ, Kidd, and Nash. They don’t realize what kind of hell the Suns could be in if they don’t land a top notch starting PG right away.

    Looking forward to a solid Suns win tonight. :)

  • steve

    When was the last time the suns didn’t have a top 5 pg? Even marbury was pretty good in a suns uni. Maybe not top 5, but he was top half for sure.

  • B. Cray Z.

    MUST avoid a letdown.

    MUST have a healthy Nash.

    MUST keep grabbing them boards.

    MUST reunite that killer bench unit. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • Scott

    A few notes …

    Brown is playing much better these last few days; more like the player many Suns fans probably thought they were getting when he was signed. I’ve called for trades on Brown, but if he’s going to continue to stay focused and be responsible for everything he’s doing (and not doing) out on the floor, then I’m okay with keeping him.

    I was especially pleased to see the 2nd unit start out with what looked to me like a practiced play intended to get Lopez into action. He scored and it really paid off for both Lopez and the Suns, because when you pay attention to a player and use them properly, they feel included and play with greater energy. And that’s exactly what happened with Lopez.

    It was also good to see Telfair drive more, and try to get himself into position to score earlier in the clock. He’s still slow getting up the court, and slow starting the offense, but he’s not stopping and dribbling for several seconds at the arc any more.

    Along with the good, there was still some bad. Possibly as a consequence of Gortat’s early foul trouble, the 2nd unit didn’t have one of the starters playing with them, and that seemed to me to gum up the works in their first appearance. Later on, Dudley played with the 2nd unit, and I thought it really helped.

    Again, I recommend that Frye and Dudley consistently play with the 2nd unit. Getting some 2nd unit players who really know the system would help a lot.

    Redd had another bad outing. At this point I don’t think it’s his physical conditioning, I think it’s almost entirely a mental / rhythm thing. I think he needs to start. He just doesn’t play well off the bench. He looked pretty frustrated to me after his poor outing, and it could be that the Suns are losing him. Redd may understand that his play hasn’t been good enough to merit joining the starters; however, saying he can’t play well enough to to be on the court isn’t going to sit well with him. He’s used to starting, so before you rule him out, give him a few starts to prove himself.

    IIRC, Redd scored 20 or more on two occasions when he started. I don’t want the Suns to lose any games, and the next few are all tough ones – OKC, Mavs, Grizz – but the Suns are going to have to either start Redd sometime soon or risk losing him mentally and emotionally.

    If necessary, pull him quick, but start him. I think it’s just a matter of how his psyche works.

    One idea might be to tell him now that you plan to start him on the 3/12 game against the Wolves.

    Morris is struggling with his offense. Again, I think it’s because he’s playing with the 2nd unit, which has too many players new to the system so generally everyone struggles. Put him with the starters. If you can’t start him for because Frye has seniority, etc., then run Frye for a few minutes before subbing with Morris, and have Frye return to the court with the bench.

    If Frye was playing center for the 2nd unit, one play we might see is Telfair getting down the court faster and driving toward the basket, only to turn and hit a trailing Frye for the 3. That could be another set play they could add to their repertoire.

    Morris could do this as well, but my guess is that at this point he’d hesitate to hit the 3. He needs more reps within a properly working system to get his confidence going.

    Final note: yes, in case someone thinks I might have changed my mind, at some point I’d still like to see Lopez and Gortat take the court together, with Lopez at C. :)

  • shawn

    @scott I would love to see gortat and Lopez play together and have Frye as a backup center. Morris completely disappeared in the starting unit earlier in the season he is not ready and I completely agree redd should start. Big games coming up Wednesday and Thursday so let’s go suns put our bigs to work

  • Scott

    @shawn -

    I agree Morris wasn’t ready to start earlier in the season. He’s better now, but offensively he just isn’t getting the ball in scoring situations with the 2nd unit. A little time with Nash would probably improve his confidence.

    However, my main thing regarding Morris and Frye is getting Frye more time with the 2nd unit. He can play PF or C there, but the idea is for him to help shore up the 2nd unit so it does a better job.

    At the moment, Telfair is leading the 2nd unit. But he’s new to the team and new to the offense, with really no training camp or pre-season. He should have been paired with a couple of Suns vets from the start. Dudley and Frye could be co-captains for the 2nd unit, and make sure everybody is doing what they need to do for success.