New era of Suns basketball begins with loss in Sacramento

After one of the more eventful summers in franchise history, the Phoenix Suns finally got back to the business of basketball Wednesday night against the Kings.

For the first 12 minutes, it appeared the so-called “squad in transition” was at ease without its former two-time MVP point guard. Over the final 36 minutes, however, the Suns looked very much like a team still searching for their newfound identity.

That’s all part of the ups and downs that are inevitable for a team beginning the preseason with seven new faces in town.

Phoenix dropped its first game of the post-Steve Nash era 102-96 to Pacific Division foe Sacramento on a night that Alvin Gentry’s squad gave up 27 fast break points off 17 turnovers while also allowing the Kings to crash the offensive glass relentlessly to the tune of 16 offensive rebounds and 44 points in the paint.

The Suns came out at Power Balance Pavilion firing on all cylinders, leading 30-26 after a quarter of play. But poor production off the bench to start the second period (Kings went on 10-1 run), a scoring drought midway through the third quarter (Kings went on 12-0 run) and a turnover-riddled final quarter (Kings went on 11-0 run), doomed Gentry and Co. in their six-point loss.

Outside of the Kings’ numerous offensive runs, Sacramento more than anything controlled the pace Wednesday night. They were more physical in the paint, pushed the tempo off turnovers, outfought the Suns in the rebound department and made it a point to get to the free throw line — with 26 makes to the Suns’ 26 attempts.

A lot intrigue heading into Wednesday’s preseason opener centered around free agent acquisitions Michael Beasley, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola, and despite the game not having any worth in the win-loss column, Gentry wasn’t afraid to use his new toys.

Beasley was very effective offensively during the Suns’ high-scoring first quarter, scoring eight points on two three-point makes. Thought to be a one-man scoring machine, the former No. 2 overall pick didn’t try to do too much in his 24 minutes of play. Primarily playing small forward, Beasley was content hanging on the wings, taking shots — he finished with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting — when they were available and making smart passes into the post and around the perimeter when opportunities arose. Surprisingly the shoot-first forward led the team in assists with five, but also had three turnovers.

Scola, who played 22 minutes, also didn’t try to show too much in his first official showcase with the Suns. Scola played the part of the willing passer, crashed the glass at the defensive end and took advantage of his paint chances. The Argentine finished with seven points and five rebounds.

Dragic, who was sidelined for the better part of last week with an ankle injury, was plagued by foul trouble most of the night. He did, however, show signs of the player he was in Houston late last season, scoring nine points to go along with four assists.

In a game that the Suns were out-hustled and outplayed, there were some notable contributions off the bench.

Wes Johnson’s struggles from three-point range (2-for-9) continued against the Kings, but his confidence wasn’t shaken. Johnson led the team with 18 points, several of which came from 14-18 feet away. Markeiff Morris has been a dominant figure during the first eight days of camp and it showed in Sacramento. Morris still illustrated a tendency to settle for jump shots, but was productive off the pine, contributing 14 points (5-for-14) and five rebounds.

Arguably the most notable performance in Tuesday’s loss came from the Suns’ first-round draft pick, Kendall Marshall. Due to Dragic’s foul problems and an injury that sidelined Sebastian Telfair, the No. 13 pick from June’s draft played a team-high 28 minutes and showed several glimpses of what he’s capable of doing in an up-tempo offensive scheme. Like most of his teammates, though, Marshall struggled to get comfortable in the half court — accruing three turnovers and just four points on 1-for-6 shooting — but his consistent aggression despite mistakes and a double-digit fourth quarter deficit was very encouraging.

And 1

  • For those looking to watch the Suns/Kings game on NBA TV, you were probably disappointed when a Western Conference season preview show was flashing on your screen instead. The game was blacked out in the Phoenix and Sacramento markets.
  • As noted above, veteran point guard Sebastian Telfair didn’t suit up against the Kings. He was nursing a sore wrist suffered last week in San Diego.
  • A day after bumping heads with P.J. Tucker, shooting guard Shannon Brown also missed Tuesday’s contest. Following his accident with Tucker, Brown required seven stitches above his eye.  Jared Dudley got the start at the two and was effective in transition (10 points) and on the glass (five rebounds).
  • Tucker didn’t escape the injury bug either. Trying to make an NBA squad for the first time since 2006-07, the former Texas standout left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent stinger in his right shoulder.
  • Armen Soudjian created a fun video at training camp looking ahead to the team’s future.

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