Preview: Phoenix Suns (13-28) at Sacramento Kings (16-26)





Time: 8 p.m. MST


A week ago, the Phoenix Suns’ visit to Sacramento appeared winnable despite the Suns’ 3-17 record away from US Airways Center. They’d won four in a row against Keith Smart’s talented but sometimes troubled squad, and a five-day layoff looked beneficial.

The Suns were often at their relative bests this season coming off periods where longer practices could establish a base for executive. Last such stretch came a few weeks ago, when a couple days of solid practice led to a four-game winning streak — the third game of that stretch came against these very Kings.

Since that streak, Phoenix has lost 13 of its 15 games.

Now, it’s hard to expect much on Wednesday in Sacramento, certainly because Alvin Gentry is out and Lindsey Hunter is in. But despite the two-day long interim head coaching search, Hunter has gotten three solid practices under his belt.

Quickly, we’ll get to see how Hunter’s ideas translate to the court.

It’s become apparent that the goal is to bring out more confidence and aggression with on-the-ball defense and pick-and-rolls. Hunter wants to do that by simplifying the schemes. That sounds good on paper, as the Suns have been most successful when they’re using their length — which they do have a bit of — to get into passing lanes for steals or at the very least disruptions of the opposing offense.

The Kings have pulled away from the Suns during Phoenix’s idling of late, winning three of their last five games, albeit it’s come against sub-.500 teams.

DeMarcus Cousins has recently stayed out of trouble and on the court has been humming along at 23 points per game and 13 rebounds over his last five outings. Last time against the Suns, the usually-successful big man struggled against Marcin Gortat and co., scoring nine points on 1-of-10 shooting in one of his worst games of the year.

Sacramento is coming off a 114-105 loss to the New Orleans Hornets, and its story on Monday was similar to Phoenix’s repetitive shortcomings. The Kings found themselves trailing New Orleans 64-39 at half and rallied in the third quarter only to fall short.

And despite all the hoopla around the Kings’ potential move to Seattle and the Sacramento’s fight to keep the franchise, it’s likely the Suns’ in-house changes will be of bigger distraction come gametime. If Hunter’s move to the front row of the bench truly gives the Suns a “jolt” as Lance Blanks put it, then witnessing that off the bat in Sacramento will be a good slice of evidence for optimists moving forward.

The results aside, any noticeable differences in scheme, focus or effort would point to shades of said optimism, no matter how faint those shades might be considering the overarching problems with the roster and beyond.

And 1

Jermaine O’Neal cleared the air last night about his reported argument with Suns General Manager Lance Blanks. Well, sort of. From all the reports I read, none accused O’Neal of complaining about the coaching change. All along, it appeared this was related to himself.

And maybe it was a bit overblown.

O’Neal told Paul Coro that the argument from Blanks stemmed from personal issues and was resolved. The Suns center won’t be available on Wednesday against the Kings. He called an unknown medical issue a “health scare” on Twitter Tuesday night.

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