PHOENIX — With 10 games to go and little to play for, the Phoenix Suns have definitely reached the “to win or not to win” zone. The Suns enter play Thursday night with the worst record in the Western Conference and the fourth-worst record in the league.
Based on how they’ve played through the first 72 contests, it’s easy to assume the Suns don’t need much help in the losing department. Some poor shooting, a bad defensive stretch and a superior opponent have been the key ingredients on most nights in 2012-13.
But Lindsey Hunter and Co. took that to a whole new level in Salt Lake City Wednesday. The Suns interim coach “rested” point guard Goran Dragic, who was arguably coming off his best game of the season, despite the fact his team had two days off between games. Phoenix obviously was overmatched in the 103-88 defeat, and for the first time all season it raised the question: Are the Suns actually tanking?
Although Dragic is slated to miss his second straight game Thursday, it remains to be seen if the ‘T’ word will come into play against the Sacramento Kings. While the Kings are not on the same level talent-wise as the Jazz, Keith Smart and Co. are playing to win down the stretch, despite the fact they are headed for their fifth straight top 10 pick.
The Kings come to town winners of four of their last six games, and in that stretch they beat playoff-bound teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. While Sacramento doesn’t do a whole lot well, hence the record, Smart’s squad can certainly score the basketball.
In the two teams’ last matchup on March 8, the Kings put up 121 points in a nine-point victory over the Suns. That was by no means an aberration. Nine times this month, Sacramento has scored 100 points or more. By comparison, Phoenix has only four games of 100 points or more in March.
Although Sacramento is probably not any closer to getting back to the playoffs than it was say four or five years ago, former top 5 picks — DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans — have to some degree proven this year that management should continue to build around them. While Cousins is tempestuous on and off the court, he’s a walking double-double (16.9 points and 10.0 rebounds) just about every night. When he wants to be, of course.
While Evans’ scoring and shot attempts are down this season, the former Memphis standout is shooting the highest field goal and three-point percentages of his career. Although he will probably never be the guard the Kings’ brass envisioned he’d be coming out of college, at 15.5 points per game he’s a nice piece to build off of.
Isaiah Thomas (13.7 points per game), Marcus Thornton (13.7 points per game) and Jason Thompson (10.7 points per game) have all had decent years in their own right as complimentary players, but let’s face it, until the team figures out its arena situation, general manager Geoff Pietrie will continue to have a hard time building a roster outside of the Kings’ annual lottery picks.
Speaking of the Kings’ situation, the Associated Press reported earlier this week that the Sacramento City Council voted 7-2 in favor of a new $447 million project to build the team a new arena. The report noted that the city would agree to help pay for a substantial ($258 million) portion of the project. The remaining funding would come from an investment group — led by 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and billionaire Ron Burkle – that has worked for months to keep the team from moving to Seattle as originally planned. In reality though, the final decision to keep the team in Sacramento or move it to Seattle will be left in the hands of the NBA’s Board of Governors in New York on April 18-19.
- How bad has this season been for the Suns? Well, the team has now lost four or more straight games on six different occasions in 2012-13.
- Wesley Johnson had somewhat of a career milestone in Wednesday’s loss to the Jazz. For the first time in his three-year career, the Suns swingman scored more than 20 points in back-to-back games.
- About 2,300 miles away from Phoenix, Syracuse and Indiana will play Thursday night in Washington D.C. for the right to advance to the East Region final in the NCAA tournament. Now that has little to do with the Kings or the Suns, except for the fact Sacramento head coach Keith Smart had quite a hand in the outcome when the two programs met in the National Championship game back in 1987. Smart’s 16-foot, game-winning jumper with five seconds to go in the contest gave Indiana its fifth title in school history. The Hoosiers haven’t won one since.