Monday night pitted two teams - the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings - that would appear on any analyst's short list of most disappointing teams in the NBA this season. Neither was predicted to be a playoff team, but the drama and underperformance of each team has their fanbases shaking their heads and national pundits cringing.
To make matters worse, both teams were sitting most of their most important players for various reasons. While the Suns wait until players gets injured before sitting them down, the latest being Archie Goodwin (ankle) and Tyson Chandler (concussion protocol), the Kings just simply decided that the season was only 80 games long for stalwarts DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo and Darren Collison.
Neither team came out with a real game plan.
"There was some fatigue out there," Kings coach George Karl said.
"I wouldn't say we came out flat. I'd say we came out with no identity," Suns coach Earl Watson said. He said that Chandler and Goodwin were their catalysts for the two weekend wins, and that the Suns didn't know how to handle missing them.
Yet someone had to win, despite neither team really wanting to.
The Kings got spirited performance from non-guaranteed player Seth Curry, and pulled away from the Suns far enough to withstand a late Suns charge.
Let's talk about those two wins on the road in the past week. You know, the ones that now almost certainly give the Celtics a better chance at winning the lottery than the Suns do.
As you know, the Boston Celtics own the swap rights with the Brooklyn Nets (21-60) for their top pick in the June draft. So of course, the Nets are trying to help ensure Boston gets the best pick possible by resting their best players down the stretch.
Now that the Suns (22-59) won two games in the past week, they are a solid win ahead of the Nets. Makes total sense to win those road games, right?
That gives the Suns only an 11.9% chance to get the top pick versus a 15.6% chance for the Celtics. Overall, the Celtics now have a 46.9% chance to jump into the Top 3, while the Suns have just a 37.8% chance. The Suns have nearly as high a chance to drop to 5th or 6th as they do to jump into the Top 3.
If by some chance the Nets win their final game (against the #2-locked-seed Raptors in the East) while the Suns lose to the Clippers (locked into 4th in West), the Nets and Suns would be tied and would basically have the same lotto combinations going into the lottery. A coin flip would decide who gets ONE more lotto ball combination (138 versus 137).
Lotto balls, 2
The Kings, by winning on Monday night despite resting tons of players, also hurt themselves in the lotto ball department.
With their 33rd win, they've now dropped into a 3-way tie for the 8th-9th-10th pick in the pre-lottery draft standings. If by chance the Kings finish 10th while one of the 11-14th seeded teams (please god not the Wizards!) jumps into the Top 3, the Kings would drop to #11 overall. If the Kings drop to #11 overall, they would finally complete their 2011 trade to acquire J.J. Hickson from the Cavaliers by sending their top pick to the Bulls (via Cavs).
A whole lot would still have to go wrong for the Kings to lose their top pick, but just by winning on Monday night they've added to the possibility. Monday afternoon, they had the #8 pick all but sewn up. Now? They could lose their pick entirely.
In what seems like a never-ending string of revenge games by former players (amazingly, I think this ONLY happens to the Suns in the entire NBA), former 10-day contract guy Seth Curry lit up the Suns on Monday night.
Curry tripled his previous career high in assists with 15, and added 20 points to help build a commanding 15-point lead over the Suns. He had several highlight plays, both on his own scores and lobs to teammates.
George Karl was over the moon after the game.
"Seth Curry: let's talk about him tonight," Karl said. "Man, he had a highlight game, a highlight show in one game. He was really good. We talked about how we needed to get some passing and Seth jumped up and gave them some solid passes, some spectacular passes. He made some great decisions and that shot at the end was a big time shot. I'm really happy for him; he's put in a lot of work. I'm sure this is very satisfying to him."
Curry was a bit more understated.
"I had the ball and I was able to make some plays," Curry said. "I just showed a different part of my game and guys were screening for me, finishing shots, stuff like that so they made me look good."
Cue the BSotS comments about Curry being another gem the Suns threw out, and that he's the best point guard on the Suns roster even when considering Bledsoe, Knight in the mix. Come on guys, you know you want to flagellate yourselves and brethren.
You know you've set expectations pretty high when you're only 19 years old and a 22 point, 4 rebound, 4 assist game is being met with disappointment. Booker has been averaging 22 points and 4.5 assists per game for the past six weeks, so I suppose we are getting used to it.
Postgame questions to Devin Booker were littered with "are you your own harshest critic?" and shared opinions that he's running on fumes lately.
"Definitely," Booker said of being his own harshest critic. "I feel like that's what's expected of me. I've put in the hours in the gym."
Booker was blocked on a late drive into the lane to tie the game. He also missed a late three pointer.
"I've thought and envisioned that shot plenty of times and for it not to go in is disappointing."
And then he got asked what it's like to be the go-to guy at such a young age.
"It's a role that I have here," he said. "And I'm blessed to be in this situation. Not many rookies get that opportunity or get all their guys who will look for you like that. I have good vets around here that want to see me succeed. They're not selfish at all and when I succeed you see the smiles on their faces like they're succeeding so that means a lot to me."
Now let's talk a bit about Mirza.
Sure, Mirza had his third straight 22+ point game, and 5th in 6 games. All career bests. But I really wanted to know how he's become such tough defender in key situations on the perimeter. After jostling James Harden into fallaway shots and dump off passes late in the game last week, he forced Rudy Gay into an errant shot on Monday night.
"That's what the coaches want me to do," he said, alluding to getting more and more comfortable at the small forward spot in big lineups.
on Alex and Archie
The Suns two third-year players from the 2013 NBA Draft are still trying to cement their roles in the NBA. This past week have given us glimpses in both a positive and negative direction.
Archie Goodwin came out of the shadows and was on a roll before rolling his ankle in the Suns win on Saturday night over the Pelicans.
"I was excited for Arch," Watson said. "Archie had an amazing run, he bounced back well, and also he was on pace to score 30 points, he was playing really good. I'm disappointed that he hurt his ankle. I'm excited for him to get back. Hopefully it's Wednesday, if not, he has a positive summer with momentum."
Goodwin had scored 40 points in his last two games, along with 8 total assists, before rolling the ankle. This after losing much of his playing time since the All-Star break as Watson tried to get Goodwin to play every play like it was last, while also highlighting Devin Booker and Alex Len.
Len - a starter the entire second half out of position at PF - had another double-double on Monday night (16 and 12) despite looking like a baby giraffe out there most of the time. The Kings played a long front line of Koufos and Cauley-Stein, but Len found a way to still out-rebound them and play tough on defense on some sequences.
"Alex Len had some big stops down the stretch," Watson said. "He had five fouls, he did a great job of just using his size and his length and contesting and get deflections and rebounds. He played as long as he could before fouling out. Alex Len is playing great."
As I wrote in the game preview, Len is one of only nine players in the entire league averaging a double-double since the All-Star break. He's got 19 double-doubles this season, with 13 of them coming in the past 6 weeks. Len came out of the break with a vengeance, posting 5 straight 10/10 double-doubles before hitting a mental slump and going back to his giraffe ways.
Now he's finishing strong with double-doubles in the last two games.
"We love the fact that he's bouncing back," Watson said. "Before we get out of here for the summer. And we need him to continue to have a positive game on Wednesday to build some confidence and momentum for him."
The Final Word
Watson had an interesting take after the game on whether a comeback win would have been a good win against such a depleted Kings team. He said no. That even if the Suns had come back, forced overtime and won a thriller, that wouldn't have been winning the right way.
"They shot 49% from the field goal percentage," he said. "That's too high and it's unacceptable."
He lamented that the Suns are missing a lot of their scorers, so their remaining players ought to be focused on defending yet they're not.
Anyway, Earl's a unique, interesting character. The players seem to like him. Let's see how this all shakes out this summer.