Time: 8 pm (Phoenix time)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona, NBA TV
Radio: 98.7 FM
It’s time to check in on another Holidays with Deadpoolio! Today, December 29, is the fourth day of Kwanzaa, which is traditionally celebrated by focusing on cooperative economics. Because nothing gets people in the mood to celebrate quite like a vigorous economics discussion. So…that should be fun, right?
The Phoenix Suns (13-23) are going for their second straight win as they travel to Sacramento to take on the Sacramento Kings (12-22).
The Kings enter tonight’s game feeling pretty good about themselves, having upset the Cleveland Cavaliers 109-95 at home on Wednesday behind Vince Carter’s throwback performance (24 points on 10-of-12 shooting). Sacramento has won three of its last five games.
The Kings are a mishmash of teambuilding ideas. Useful veterans like Zach Randolph, who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, George Hill (fifth in scoring), and Garrett Temple (seventh in scoring) have been mainstays in the starting lineup. Meanwhile, the young players have been paraded in and out of the starting lineup, as head coach Dave Joerger tries to figure out a combination that works. Fourteen players have started at least one game for the Kings through the first 34 games of this season. Willie Cauley-Stein (11.2 points, 6.2 rebounds) has been one of Sacramento’s regular youngsters in the starting lineup, but he’s also found himself in Joerger’s doghouse a time or two. Buddy Hield, aka Vivek Ranadive’s Stephen Curry clone, has been productive off the bench, averaging 12.5 points on 45.4-percent shooting from 3. And Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Phoenix Sun who wasn’t, has been a reliable rookie from the get-go. Other young players who have flirted with being regular contributors for the Kings are Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson, Frank Mason, Malachi Richardson, and, of course, De’Aaron Fox, who is out with a quad injury.
The Kings average a league-worst 96.9 points per game, which is their lowest scoring average since the 1990-91 season when they were led by the likes of Antoine Carr, Lionel Simmons, and Rory Sparrow. They don’t shoot a terrible percentage from the field (44.8) and are one of the top teams percentage-wise from behind the arc (38.4); however, they play at one of the NBA’s slowest paces and attempt a measly 16.8 free throws per contest — last in the NBA. Things don’t improve on the other end, either. The Kings are one of the worst when it comes to opponent field goal percentage (47.2) and opponent 3-point percentage (38.1), and they get beaten on the glass by approximately four rebounds per game.
Points: Zach Randolph (15.5)
Rebounds: Zach Randolph (6.9)
Assists: De’Aaron Fox (3.7)
Phoenix comes in winners of four of their last six games, the most recent being a 99-97 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies that saw Dragan Bender pass the ball into the basket — with a little guidance from Tyson Chandler’s hands — with 0.4 seconds left to win the game.
Devin Booker returned from his strained left adductor to score 32 points before fouling out against Memphis. His return bumped T.J. Warren back to his role of second banana and moved the up-and-down Josh Jackson back to the bench. The return of Booker also had a predictable effect on Troy Daniels, who attempted just four field goals — his fewest field goal attempts since Dec. 4 — in Phoenix’s most recent game. Marquese Chriss found a way to earn his way onto the court despite little impact offensively by grabbing a career-high-tying 13 rebounds. Tyler Ulis continues to hear Isaiah Canaan’s footsteps behind him as those two contend for the starting point guard role. Dragan Bender, meanwhile, is shooting like he lost a contact lens the last three games, with 19 percent from the field and 20 percent from 3.
Over their last six games, the Suns have failed to reach the century mark four times yet are 3-1 in those games. That’s because they’ve held their opponents to 43.1-percent shooting from the field and a league-low 28.2 percent from behind the arc. The result is a defense that has held opponents to 102.5 points per 100 possessions, which ranks seventh in the league over that stretch and is a marked improvement from the team’s season average of 108.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.
Points: Devin Booker (24.6)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.4)
Assists: Isaiah Canaan (5.5)
Brandon Knight (Suns): torn left ACL (OUT)
Davon Reed (Suns): torn left meniscus (OUT)
Alan Williams (Suns): torn right meniscus (OUT)
De’Aaron Fox (Kings): partial tear of right quadriceps (OUT)
Harry Giles (Kings): multiple knee surgeries (OUT)
The Suns and Kings enter this late-December game in third and fourth place respectively in the Pacific Division and a mere 15.5 games back of the division-leading Golden State Warriors. In all seriousness, the Suns are a mere 2.5 games back of the ninth-seed Los Angeles Clippers and six games back of the eighth seed. If the Suns want any glimmer of hope at a playoff run, they need to knock off teams like the Kings, who can play inspired basketball at times (usually against the Suns) but are wildly inconsistent. Sacramento has a number of streaky players (Hield, Carter, etc.) who can shoot them into and out of games. Phoenix would do well to make sure they don’t have a chance to catch fire. Do that, and the Kings will struggle to manufacture points elsewhere.
Greg Monroe vs. Zach Randolph
The Suns’ game of musical chairs with their three centers makes it difficult to predict who will play when. Alex Len has been a fixture off the bench, leaving Tyson Chandler and Greg Monroe to rotate time as starters. Chandler only played 18 minutes in Phoenix’s last game on Dec. 26, so rest isn’t much of a reason to sit Chandler tonight. However, Monroe, who has played only once in Phoenix’s last six games, must be champing at the bit to shake off some of the rust. And let’s be honest, it would be amusing to watch Monroe and Randolph battle it out against each other, considering their games are practically mirror images of each other — ground-based offensive tacticians who rebound well using width.
Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)
The last time the Phoenix Suns had multiple players average nine or more rebounds over the course of a season was 2007-08 with Shaquille O’Neal (10.6) and Amar’e Stoudemire (9.1), and the last time it happened over a full season was 2006-07 with Shawn Marion (9.8) and Stoudemire (9.6). Chandler (9.4) and Len (9.1) could be the next Phoenix duo to accomplish that.