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Game Preview: Sacramento Kings @ Phoenix Suns

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Hi, I'm the new guy.  Since I want to get off on the right foot with this community I'll just say this - I'm easily one of the top 10 writers on BSotS.  I'm willing to go that bold.  After 10 months of writing my own tiny blog - Seasons of Discontent (SoD for short) - your fearless leader Seth Pollack wooed me over with promises of....well nothing.  So why am I here?  It's for the babes.  Simple as that.  But enough about me, you want to read about professional basketball.

Right up front - these are the types of games the Suns have to win.  Lose these ones and you'll regret it in a ridiculously tight Western Conference playoff race.  The Kings are 2-8 in their last 10 and just not all that good.  The Suns on the other hand are in the midst of their best stretch since November ended, having won 7 of their last 9. With the Amar'e Stoudemire trade rumors FINALLY in the rear-view mirror everyone can start focusing on the playoff chase - in which PHX sits 6th in the West, but just 1.5 games out of 8th and 3.5 from being out of the party all together.

This is the 4th and final meeting between these two teams, with the first 3 match-ups ending in wins for the Suns.  In those 3 contests the Suns have been pretty consistent scoring wise, putting up 115, 113, and 114 points respectively.  Another weird (and completely meaningless) quirk - the first three games were each a month apart, December 5th, January 5th, and February 5th.  In the December game the Suns trailed by 1 entering the 4th but rallied to win behind 32 from Nash along with 18 and 21 from Standing Tall and Talented.  The January contest was in the absolute peak of the Suns lead-blowing powers as they surrendered a 20 point first half lead but managed to hang on for a 4 point win.  The last meeting is probably fresh in the minds of Suns fans as it was the cherry on top of a perfect 4 game road trip and although it ended in a 12 point Suns win - it was never really that close.

The main question for the Suns going into this game is if they'll have the services of diminutive Canadian point guard Steve NashEarly indications are that he will play but you've got to wonder about how effective he'll actually be and assume his PT will be a bit limited.  It's apparent that the combination of a hectic schedule and injuries have caught up with Nash as in the three games since the All-Star break he's shot just 29.6% including a scintillating 9.1% (1 of 11) from three.  He's still putting up strong assist numbers (11.3 in the last 3) but the shooting and scoring (3 of his 6 single digit scoring games are in the last 3) have been off.  Ideally Nash would sit out, but more realistically I'll hope that he's able to get some rest in this one via a Suns blowout.  Regardless of whether he plays tonight, the smart move may be to have Nash skip the travel for Tuesday night's road tilt with the Thunder so that he can stay home and rest for upcoming home games against Philly (Wednesday) and the Clip Show (Friday).

For the Suns at large, they are coming off a win where they scored just 88 points.  No I didn't make that up, you can Google it if you want. The Hawks game represented just the 2nd time all season the Suns have had back to back sub-100 point games (the first time was the blowout pair of losses @New York and @Cleveland in early December).  This is a trend that is sure to change.  On a more player based level:

  • I can't speak for all Suns fans, but I'll admit a huge smile formed across my face when Amar'e Stoudemire popped the "Suns" part of his uniform in his Friday night post-game interview with Cedric Ceballos.  The ballad of Amar'e has been covered ad nauseam on this site so I'll just say this - STAT has been a pro through and through.  Not only has he handled the rumors with grace, he's also been playing up to his rather sizable potential - how does 24.6/11.3 in February strike you?  It should strike you well.
  • On my old blog I had a way to describe the game of Channing Frye - the Channing Coaster - a loving method of describing the general ups and downs of Frye's game.  Call it a Three Point Shootout jinx or whatever you'd like but the Coaster is currently on a down swing - with Channing shooting just 27.3% from the field and having missed all 7 of his three point attempts since the All-Star break.  I'd like to see him hit a few tonight just to get going.
  • Since the Kings are bad I expect we'll get a good showing from J-Rich tonight after he put up just 4 points against the Hawks on 2/9 shooting.  I live by a fairly simple rule - bad opponent= good J-Rich.  Good opponent = bad J-Rich (or people talking about the "lock down D" he played as an excuse).  He did have a sweet touch pass to Lou Amundson in the 4th quarter against ATL though...
  • The lineup of Goran Dragic, Richardson, Jared Dudley, Amundson, and Frye did most of the damage in the 4th quarter on Friday to get the Suns the win.  If there is a struggle with energy tonight I wouldn't be surprised to see the same lineup get a chance together.

King Them:

Sacramento is a team that has been struggling for a while.  Since they beat the Nuggets on December 28th to improve their record to 14-16 they've won just 4 of 25.  For those of you who aren't statistical scholars - that is not a good record.  But it's difficult to really get into the Kings without talking about their recent roster shakeup:

  • The major move for Sacramento was the three way trade with Houston and New York in which they shipped out Kevin Martin, Sergio Rodriguez, and Hilton Armstrong while getting Carl Landry, Joey Dorsey, and Larry Hughes in return.  Kings fans seemed to really like Martin but I can't see why they would be too crushed at his loss as the team went just 4-18 with him in the lineup this season and he struggled to acclimate to playing in the same backcourt as stud rookie Tyreke Evans.  Can't imagine that anybody will even notice that Rodriguez and Armstrong are gone.  As for the Kings pickups - I love Carl Landry.  He's not a perfect player, but he's developed a solid offensive game and is tough as hell.  Dorsey will probably make just about as much impact in Sacto as he did in Houston (almost none) while Hughes is a $13 million dollar expiring contract that is currently injured.  It remains to be seen whether Hughes will ever even sport a Kings uniform.  
  • Sacramento also acquired Dominic McGuire from the Wizards for a 2nd round pick and waived Kenny Thomas.  Neither of those moves should have a big impact on anything.

Considering the new blood it's a bit difficult to analyze the Kings but they are still led by Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, and Jason Thompson (who missed the last meeting with the Suns due to a death in the family).  Evans is no doubt the front runner for Rookie of the Year (20.2/5.3/4.9) while Casspi has spent the season winning my heart, and Thompson has developed into a solid big man.  The Kings recently welcomed 4th year guard Francisco Garcia back to the lineup (this will be just his 4th game) after he missed most of the season with a wrist injury.  Garcia got his first start last night and barring any last minute lineup shuffling from head coach Paul Westphal he should be back out there tonight.  Sacramento will be without the services of cro-magnon tough big man Jon Brockman for the next month with a knee injury - just one less rebounding threat for the Suns to worry about.

Keys to the game:

  • Shoot better.  Genius advice isn't it?  I guess I'll get more specific.  Shoot better from three.  The Suns rank 2nd in the NBA in three point shooting percentage at a 40% clip, but in the previous two games they are just 7 of 40.
  • Find other sources of offensive production to fill in for the banged up Nash.  This will probably require a strong performance from Goran Dragic and the rest of the bench.
  • Don't let Carl Landry go nuts.  While with Houston, Landry played against the Suns three times this season.  Although Phoenix won each of the games, Landry - a 16.1 ppg scorer - averaged 24.7, including his two highest scoring games of the season (31 and 27).  He's also averaged just over 5 offensive rebounds per game against the Suns.
  • Don't overlook the opponent/come out with intensity.  The Kings might not be great or anything but they are a NBA team with uniforms and everything.  Every time the Suns come out with a blah attitude they get their asses handed to them - no matter who they're playing.
  • Containing my man-crush on Omri Casspi.  I can't get enough of the 21 year-old Israeli rookie who's stepped smoothly into the Kings starting lineup this season.  I want one of him for the Suns.

Conclusion:

This is a game the Suns should win as Sacramento isn't all that good at basketball and played a late game last night against the Clippers.  I like some of the individual players on the Kings and they have a great deal of upside but at this point in the season they are what they are - a team that is 19 games under .500.  TCB Suns.  TCB.  (It means take care of business)

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