What: Phoenix Suns (24-57) vs. Sacramento Kings (31-49)
When: 7:30 PM AZ Time
Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona Plus
Listen: 98.7 FM
What to expect from the last 48 minutes of Phoenix Suns basketball has a lot to do with what you make of the 81 games that game before. Does Phoenix try to end on a high note, taking a 3-game winning streak into the offseason? Or does the tank come to a grinding awkward halt with Devin Booker sitting for most of tonight’s matchup?
I have been a big cheerleader for the tank so far, but with a couple consecutive big wins under their belt, I could see these Suns looking to end the season winners. The first 50 or so games were a painful slog. Veterans were logging heavy futile minutes as the losses piled up. Once the All-Star break rolled around and P.J. Tucker was sent to the Toronto Raptors, Ryan McDonough convinced ownership to commit to the tank.
And with that commitment, the games got fun. Every complaint Suns fans had about veterans stunting the development of their favorite young project evaporated. You like Devin Booker? He’s the only functional shooting guard on the roster (sorry, Leandro). You like Tyler Ulis? Brandon AND Eric, take a seat. More of a power forward guy? Marquese Chriss went from nominal starter to 24+ minute a night stalwart. You like Sauce? Alan Williams has a double-double for you almost on demand. Or maybe dunks are your thing? 32 of Derrick Jones, Jr’s 65 field goals have been wham-bam-slams as new Ring of Honor inductee Al McCoy would say. The only thing preventing a full-on “Future is Now” moment was an untimely injury to rookie Dragan Bender.
So, in game 82, what are these Suns looking to do? Secure the second most ping-pong balls or build on this as coach Earl Watson is wont to say?
If you think you have suffered as a Suns fan these last few seasons, Sacramento Kings fans would like a word. The #Kangz haven’t had a winning season since 2005-2006. Despite having one of the best big men in the league in DeMarcus Cousins since 2010, Sacramento have not been able to win more than 33 games. So it makes sense they blew it up and sent Cousins packing for a package centered around Buddy Hield. Well, that last part doesn’t make as much sense as cutting bait on Cousins in general did.
Unsurprisingly, the Kings’ fortunes haven’t changed since sending their best player to New Orleans. The Kings have managed a 7-16 record since the All-Star Break. The biggest beneficiaries of the Cousins’ departure have been big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere, who have seen their minutes and production skyrocket without Boogie sucking up minutes and possessions. You may remember Labissiere abusing the Suns to the tune of 21 4th quarter points in the Phoenix and Sacramento’s last meeting. Skal finished with 32 points and 11 rebounds in a 107-101 Kings’ victory in Phoenix.
Odds are this game will be won or lost for the Phoenix Suns in the paint. Last time out, Labissiere and Cauley-Stein completely outplayed Alex Len and Alan WIlliams, outscoring them 46-20. The Sacramento backcourt is nothing the Suns can’t handle as long as Devin Booker plays a full game.
Speaking of players playing full games... both teams are heavy into “rest” mode. For the Kings, Arron Afflalo, Tyreke Evans, Darren Collison, and Kosta Koufos have all been “resting.” For the Suns, Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler, and Brandon Knight are all out for “rest”, while Leandro Barbosa is TBD with a hamstring issue. And there may be a temptation for the Suns to go ahead and “rest” Devin Booker in a relatively meaningless game.
The good news is that means we should see a lot of young guys out there trying to make their mark in the league. The bad news is that those same young guys aren’t terribly good at NBA basketball. I think Phoenix lets Devin ball and goes for the win. I also think Skal and Willie are too much for Len and Sauce to handle and the Kings win it in a close one.