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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns look to keep pace in Sacramento

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The Phoenix Suns (29-23) hit the road in a really-really-need-to-win game versus the Sacramento Kings (17-32).

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Good Guys: The Phoenix Suns, last seen getting back to their winning ways on the back of a career night from Marcus Morris

The Bad Guys: The Sacramento Kings, whose promising start to the season was torpedoed by a meddling front office

Where: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento CA

When: 7PM, AZ Time

The Tube: Fox Sports AZ

Kings Coverage: Sactown Royalty

The enigmatic Phoenix Suns forge on to the Land Of Boogie, as the floundering Sacramento Kings await in a game in which the Suns really can't afford to mess around. The Suns are startlingly vulnerable for a 29-23 team, with a variety of unorthodox lineups that produce mismatches across the board. Sometimes the Suns are the beneficiary of these mismatches, sometimes they backfire.

Case in point: the Portland Trail Blazers were able to silence the Suns' firepower by packing the paint, and the horde of shoot-first players that populate this roster were hardly able to make a dent, en route to 87 points on a dreadful .420 eFG%. Their lack of perimeter shooting resulted in a 6/23 night from long-range, as the team managed only 17 freethrow attempts to boot.

On the other hand, the plethora of shoot-first scorers on this team means that any number of players can suddenly catch fire, as Marcus Morris broke loose for a scorching 34 points on 17 shot attempts in the following game in Phoenix versus the Utah Jazz. Surprisingly, the Suns allowed only 6 offensive rebounds in that game despite being greatly outsized without Alex Len, who is not expected to return from a sprained ankle until following the All-Star break.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans tied the Suns in the loss column on the heels of this ridiculous game-winner by Anthony Davis, before getting drubbed by the Bulls on Saturday in a game that Davis left early due to injury. As for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they're still lurking at 25-25. Their seemingly inevitable surge up the standings still hasn't yet occurred, as they're still waiting for that first dominant 10-game stretch, but they shouldn't be counted out until they're mathematically eliminated.

So goes the season for this bizarre Suns team, who for all their flaws are succeeding in staying competitive as they continue to accumulate assets and lay the groundwork for the future of the organization.

Unfortunately, their Pacific Division rivals aren't doing quite so well.

Calamity in Cowtown

The Kings were plunged into NBA obscurity under the rule of the infamous Maloofs, not making a playoff appearance since 2006 and failing to even win 30 games for the last six (possibly seven) seasons. When Vivek Ranadive saved the team from becoming the Seattle Supersonics in 2013, a newfound optimism was abound in Sacramento.

As recently as Thanksgiving it looked like the Kings had finally climbed out of the abyss as they posted a 9-5 record, spurred by a commitment to defense under head coach Mike Malone and the beastiness of center DeMarcus Cousins inside.

Then the wheels came off.

Since that 9-5 start, they have seen their star player succumb to a bout of viral meningitis and the popular Malone fired in a political coup that no one saw coming. Making matters worse, the reins were handed to Tyrone Corbin, who was notorious for mismanaging the Jazz during his three-year tenure as head coach in Utah.

The team has gone 7-27 during that span, but there is a glimmer of hope.

After the Kings' brass initially hinted that Corbin was their man for the job long-term, suddenly reports have emerged that George Karl is in talks to take over the team immediately. Despite all the criticism of Karl's shortcomings in the playoffs, which are valid to an extent, the Kings can't afford to worry about that at this point. Karl has an excellent track record of generating instant wins upon taking a team over, and their famously devoted fans have been unfairly starved of a winning season for far too long.

During the 2004/05 season, Karl guided the 17-25 Denver Nuggets to a 32-8 finish and a playoff berth.

In the lockout-shortened 1998/99 season, he ended the Milwaukee Bucks' six-year playoff drought in his first year on the job, eventually guiding them to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2001.

Please make this happen, Sacramento. Your fans deserve it. And according to this tweet...

...the number of fans in favor of Karl coaching the Kings is an astounding 818-33 at the time of publishing this article. Ok, so I voted yes even though I'm not a Kings fan. I just really want to see good basketball return to Sacramento, and I want to see George Karl and Boogie Cousins join forces.

Sue me.

Last Meeting

The Suns won 115-106 in Sacramento, evening the season series 1-1. The Morris twins combined for 37 points on 15-23 from the field (7-8 from three). Isaiah Thomas took 17 shots to reach 17 points in his former team's building, screaming at the fans and the Kings' bench all throughout. Hopefully we get a more efficient and less yelly Thomas this time around.

Cousins did not play, but the Kings still scored a combined 69 points in the second and third quarters to keep things interesting.

The Matchup

Phoenix Suns Sacramento Kings
G - Eric Bledsoe G - Ramon Sessions
G - Goran Dragic G - Ben McLemore
F - P.J. Tucker F - Not Rudy Gay (foot injury)
F - Markieff Morris F - Jason Thompson
C - Miles Plumlee C - DeMarcus Cousins

In a familiar story, the Suns will be at a disadvantage up front as the Kings start Cousins and Jason Thompson up front, with Suns-tormenter Carl Landry coming off the bench. Reggie Evans will also be doing Reggie Evans things, and apparently Ryan Hollins is still an NBA player.

That last part isn't an advantage for Sacramento, I just found it too bizarre not to mention.

On the wings, the Kings are struggling mightily. Nik Stauskas was thought to be one of the more NBA-ready players in the draft, but is shooting only .264 from downtown and .333 overall. Second-year guard Ben McLemore has improved his shooting from his rookie year (.485 TS% to .567) to complement his solid defense, but hasn't yet found a way to become a legitimate impact player. Despite starting all 48 games and averaging 33 minutes, he's contributing only 11.6 points per 36 minutes with a minuscule PER of 9.7. Derrick Williams (DNP'd in last night's loss at Utah) and Omri Casspi are shooting .279 and .211 from deep, respectively. If it wasn't for Rudy Gay, this might be the worst wing rotation in the NBA.

Gay will present a huge mismatch if the Suns try to roll out their 'Trips' lineup with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas on the floor together, so they might be wise to reserve it for when either Casspi or Stauskas is at the 3.

Other than that, expect P.J. Tucker to log heavy minutes as he is clearly the best option to defend Gay, who is scoring an efficient 20.6 PPG.

UPDATE: Gay will be out of action tonight with a balky foot.

The Kings might be without starting point guard Darren Collison, which would result in veteran Ramon Sessions and Ray McCallum at the point.

As usual, the Suns' guards should win their matchup while Miles Plumlee and Brandan Wright are likely to get destroyed by Cousins at the center position. It might come down to which supporting cast can contribute the most, and fortunately the Suns should have an advantage with the Morris twins, Wright, and Gerald Green over Thompson, Landry, McLemore and Casspi.

Prediction

The Suns haven't had a truly comfortable win since they drubbed the Toronto Raptors in Phoenix back on January 4. Facing a severely struggling Kings team that might be missing their starting PG and will be on the second game of a back-to-back affords them an excellent opportunity to roll out the Tyler Ennis show under positive circumstances.

The way the they have been playing recently, however, leads me to expect a way-too-close-for-comfort win as Boogie goes off for 35 and 15, leading a 20-point comeback at some point.

Suns hold on to win, 111-107.

BSOTS Hits The Road!

Our own Ray Hrovat will be traveling from his humble abode in Wine Country to cover tonight's game from press row at Sleep Train. Surely his presence will be enough to inspire our boys to victory.

Now let's all enjoy a flashback to the last time the Suns and Kings played for high stakes, as Phoenix faced elimination in a first-round game 4 in 2001 (it was best-of-five in those days, kiddies). The Kings were just beginning their early-2000's heyday, and Shawn Marion's cornrows were no match.