The Good Guys: The Phoenix Suns
The Bad Guys: The Sacramento Kings
Where: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, CA
When: 3 PM Arizona Time!
TV: NBA TV, FSAZ
Radio: AZ Sports 98.7 FM
First of all, notice the odd scheduling of this game. It's at 3 PM for you Arizonans, and 5 PM out on the east coast. We're getting a Sunday matinee on a Saturday.
Second, this is a nationally televised game, even if it's only on NBA TV and not one of the major networks. The NBA TV broadcast will be played with the Kings announcers, but it still brings in a special, neutral audience. The team should try not to get embarrassed whenever that's the case.
The Suns will enter this game trying to avoid their 8th consecutive loss. Or at the very least, the players and the coach will say that they're avoiding the loss. At this point, perhaps general manager Ryan McDonough is sitting in a hot tub and counting his ping pong balls.
There are few games in which the Suns will be favored without Eric Bledsoe. In the team's last match up with the Kings they won by 21 points, but DeMarcus Cousins sat out and the game was played in Phoenix. With Bledsoe out, Cousins in, and the game on the road, the Suns will be hard-pressed to even defeat a Sacramento Kings team that is far from dominant, sitting at 12-20 on the season.
On the bright side, the youth movement is taking place and prospects such as Devin Booker, T.J. Warren and Alex Len are being thrust into much greater roles. In the last game against the Thunder, Booker played 39 minutes and Warren logged 41.
But with youth comes inconsistency. Although the Suns are now officially a "bottom feeder", they came surprisingly close to defeating both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Thunder, losing those two games by a combined eight points. On the other hand, they were embarrassed by the Spurs, losing by 33. You never know which Suns are going to show up, which at least adds a bit of suspense to the season. If the Suns move the ball and shoot as well as they did against Cleveland and Oklahoma City, I have no doubt that they can easily handle Boogie and the Kings. But there's also potential to be demolished by a physical team that has given Phoenix problems in the past.
Now let's talk about the Kings, who have somewhat recovered from a rocky start by going 5-5 in their last 10 games. Things are far from cozy in Sacramento right now, as they lost their last game to the lowly Sixers by five points. But they are in slightly better playoff position than Phoenix, only 2.5 games out of the 8th seed.
It's hard to talk about the Kings without talking about the resurgence of Rajon Rondo. Rondo, who was lambasted by many NBA fans for his lack of effort with Dallas, is once again the NBA's assist leader. Rondo is averaging 11.2 assists per game, and it's the first time he's posting more than 10 dimes a night since the 2012-13 season. He's also averaging 11.9 points on 46 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from deep. His free-throw percentage remains putrid, as always, but he can once again stake claim as one of the league's top playmakers.
Then there's DeMarcus Cousins. The 25-year-old center is averaging 24.1 points per game, but it's also taking him a career-high 19 shot attempts to get there. Cousins has also expanded his range to the three-point line, but with limited success. He has already attempted 88 threes this season despite having only shot 15 combined in the two seasons prior. But Cousins is connecting on only 30 percent of his threes and 42 percent of his shots overall, making him one of the most inefficient big men in the league.
Finally, beware of Israeli sharpshooter Omri Casspi. Since entering the Kings' starting lineup a month ago, Casspi is averaging 15.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while connecting on 50 percent of his threes. It's by far a career year for the 27-year-old, who got his start in Sacramento back in 2009.
|G||Brandon Knight||Rajon Rondo|
|G||Devin Booker||Ben McLemore|
|F||T.J. Warren||Rudy Gay|
|F||P.J. Tucker||Willie Cauley-Stein|
|C||Tyson Chandler||DeMarcus Cousins|
The starting lineup worked so well last game that perhaps Hornacek will stick with it even if Leuer does return. Leuer is currently marked as questionable, so we'll see what happens.
For the Kings, Willie Cauley-Stein is expected to return from a finger injury. He last played on December 3rd. Rudy Gay is questionable, so if he sits Casspi will likely start in his place.
Both of these teams recently lost to Philadelphia, so anything can happen. The Kings' size has given Phoenix a lot of trouble in the past, but this season the Suns added Tyson Chandler. Additionally, Sacramento isn't actually the same rebounding juggernaut it used to be. They're now 1st in pace and 7th in three-point shooting but only 20th in rebounding, adapting to George Karl's style and making them much more similar to Phoenix on paper.
There could be a lot of points scored in this game, especially in transition. I'm just going to go ahead and say that Knight will shake off a bad game and that Warren will continue his hot streak to will Phoenix to victory.
Suns win 108-104.