Preview: Sacramento Kings (3-7) at Phoenix Suns (5-5)

Time: 7 p.m. MST






So much for the fast start.

After racing out to an impressive 5-2 record, the Phoenix Suns have fallen back to earth a little bit, following three straight losses by a combined six points.

The latest defeat, a 107-104 heart breaker on the road against the Sacramento Kings, came despite the fact that Phoenix held a lead for the first 11 minutes and 30 seconds of the fourth quarter.

Luckily for Jeff Hornacek and Co, they’ll have another crack at the Kings, as the two teams face off Wednesday at U.S. Airways Center in the back end of their home-and-home series.

For the Suns, they’ll look to avoid going below .500 for the first time this season. And for the Kings, they’ll look to win back-to-back games for the first time all season.

How strong is Phoenix’s short-term memory?

While the NBA season is more of a marathon than a sprint, losing hurts regardless of whether its the ninth game or 79th game of the season. Losing three straight in the final moments? Well, that’s even harder to swallow.

With that said, the Suns have an opportunity to erase all of their recent heartache, and thanks to the thoughtful schedule makers, it comes against the team’s most recent pain inflicter.

But for the Suns to prove that their short-term memory is an asset not a deficit, they must overcome one of their biggest weaknesses so far in 2013: winning the fourth quarter.

Outside of a 100-98 overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix has been outscored in the fourth quarter in every game its lost. Tuesday night was no exception, as the Kings closed out their third victory of the year with a 10-0 run.

Winning in the fourth quarter is of course about making shots (more on that below), but it’s also about taking care of the ball as the pressure mounts. In their three-point loss Tuesday night, the Suns, without guard Eric Bledsoe (bruised shin), turned it over six times in the fourth quarter. It’s hard to be successful giving up that many possessions in the final 12 minutes of game.

Who will close?

Part of finding ways to win late in games is having a closer. Ten games in, it’s not so clear the Suns have filled that role just yet.

Here’s an offensive breakdown of the final 24 seconds in the fourth quarter/overtime during their three-game losing streak: Eric Bledsoe missed layup, P.J. Tucker missed put back, Markieff Morris missed put back, Goran Dragic missed two-point shot, Channing Frye missed three-pointer, Goran Dragic turnover, Goran Dragic missed jumper, Marcus Morris missed three-pointer and Gerald Green missed three-pointer.

That comes out to nine different scoring chances with six different players failing to convert.

On some teams, the closer is simply the guy with the hot hand. On other teams, it’s a designated player who commands the ball regardless of his prior production.

For the Suns, well, it’s still very much a work in progress. That’s not to say the team hasn’t hit big shots in late-game situations — look no further than Bledsoe’s game-winner for proof of that. However, a common theme in the team’s recent string of close losses has been the inability to record a key bucket in the waning moments.

Maybe that all changes Wednesday night, especially if Bledsoe is able to return to the lineup.

Can ‘Boogie’ Cousins be corralled?

Including a lopsided preseason win earlier this year, Kings have won four straight games against the Suns dating back to 2012-13, and a big reason why has been the play of DeMarcus Cousins. The former fifth overall pick has torched Phoenix with three straight double-doubles, including Tuesday night’s performance of 27 points and 12 rebounds.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, the task of ending Cousins’ recent string of success will not be an easy one. If anything, centers like Cousins, Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez have been able to use their size and strength to overpower the likes of Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye. The duo held their own in Sacramento offensively, combining for 27 points and 13 rebounds. But it’s becoming apparent that the Suns’ lack of depth down low could come back to bite them as the season progresses.

While the return of Alex Len (0-of-1 in five minutes of action) could certainly help that depth, Hornacek might be wise to put Slava Kravstov in for a few minutes as well on Wednesday night. If nothing else, he could eat up a few minutes and present a different matchup for Cousins.



  • DBreezy

    Suns should be able to break the losing streak at home as long as they keep playing hard. Cousins will be hard to stop again, but my biggest worry is the Kings shooting. I’ve seen several of their games this season and so far they really haven’t shot the ball as well as several of their guys are capable of missing wide open shots as teams collapse on Cousins. One of these days it’s going to even out, hopefully not tonight.

  • EBJM

    Hunter I’ll reply to your “Devils Advocate” here. You misunderstood what I posted. I never advocated for Robin, he is Forever’s boy.

    My only point was that I was subtly needling Forever because he has accepted Len despite his flaws, both physically and skill-wise as a solid pick. I was simply posting what I thought Forever was thinking, Suns select another project center after giving up on Robin just a tad bit too soon.

    While at age 25 Robin still has plenty of time to keep growing as a player, he is the starting center on one of the currently best teams in the league.

    Injury comparisons are apples and oranges. Robin came into the league perfectly healthy and has recovered completely from his back/nerve issues. Len came in as damaged goods from day one.

    We all know “BIGS” take time to develop especially after leaving college early. But if you can’t even take the court how do you develop?

    I was just watching the replay of the Rockets and Celtics blow-out and the Rockets Terrence Jones has just earned the starting PF job with a career night. He was drafted #18 in 2012 but the Rockets were loaded at PF back then.

    BUT the guy I wanted to talk about and compare to Len along with the other guys I mentioned previously is Donatas Motiej?nas who I got to watch for awhile because of the blow-out. He was selected #20 back in 2011. He is only 23 today and a seven-footer. So three years later he still isn’t quite in the regular rotation yet but has been working hard the past three years and doesn’t have an injury history.

    He looks very promising, even ran down an open-court dunk attempt by Kelly Olynyk and blocked it from behind. My point is I don’t envision Alex Len being as good as D-Mo three years from now.

    Sure I support his development because he is a Sun but he really has to become one hell of a player in three years to justify being selected #5.

  • Sunsn7

    Young Suns tightening up with the unreasonable expectations that accompanied an unexpectedly solid start…

  • KDW

    I think the jury’s out until Len is healthy. He could be a dud. He could also be very good.

    Bleacher Report said this about him, just a couple of months ago:

    “Len, if healthy, appears destined to be both an immediate contributor and a long-term starter. If he’s on the court, he’s as “safe” a pick as there ever is in the NBA draft.

    His sheer size will earn him immediate minutes for Phoenix. Whether incumbent center Marcin Gortat is traded or not, Len will be featured in the rotation right away as the team’s biggest player.

    Athleticism, however, is the key for all big men now. If you have trouble moving laterally or can’t keep up in a high-tempo game, opposing teams will put out smaller, quicker lineups and run these immobile bigs off the court.

    Len has this athletic ability, which means he’s all but guaranteed to have a better rookie season than 95 percent of first-year centers.

    Len also has the skill to be a factor offensively. He developed his inside game tremendously at Maryland, coming to the school as a long-winged (7’3″ wingspan) defensive asset and leaving as a two-way force.”

    If that-guy shows up at some point, I’ll be happy.

  • Pingback: Suns coach Jeff Hornacek: 'We're trying to find' that closer

  • HunterSThompson

    Suns home uniforms are the most BORING in the entire league. What a tragedy for an exciting team…

  • HunterSThompson

    Sorry, but I’m gonna pull out a saying from a few years ago…

    Channing Frye = fools gold.

    I get “tweeners” (despite their limited NBA success), but they usually involve two somewhat similar positions. 1-2 guard, 3-4 forward, even 4-5 PF/C.

    The problem with Frye is that he is a PF with a SG (4-2) mentality. That is a fatal flaw.

    Cannot wait until he is traded….

  • Sunsn7

    Markieff’s snarl and swagger are long gone. It’s clear him and Frye want no part lf Cousins and co.

    Bledsoe’s value increasing and he’s not even on the floor

  • Sunsn7

    …and Archie Goodwin should be on the floor. Let him play through his mistakes. Game’s already in hand for the Kings

  • Sunsn7

    Love to see Hornacek using Tucker on Cousins. Thought about it pregame but thought it was halfway ridiculous

  • Sunsn7

    Julius Randle sure would look good in a Suns uniform

    “Orange Julius” wreaks havoc in paint

    I could see the headline now…

  • Pingback: Sacramento Kings 113, Phoenix Suns 106 -- Second-chance struggles

  • EBJM

    Dave you pointed out what I’ve been saying for awhile now, give Kravstov some burn against these big centers. The Suns lack of a big and tough center is killing them despite Plumlee playing way beyond anybody’s expectations. The Suns are paying him why not use him?

  • BCrayZ

    What this blog needs is to trade Hunter S. Thompson (comment #7) away.

    Real Suns fans should support Frye. Not just because of his potentially life threatening illness last year.

    Not just because he made clutch game winning shot after clutch game winning shot, just before he was hurt & missed the rest of the previous year. Even not only because, most recently, he was both our leading 3-point shot maker & also high rebounder (with nine), the previous game Last time the Suns were in the playoffs, we beat the Spurs four games to zero. This was all about the energetic, selfless, passionate, team play of “that killer bench unit”, of which Channing Frye was an integral part. Grow up Thompson, or we will trade you away.

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