When: 7:00 p.m. AZ
Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns - Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Aron Baynes
Kings - Cory Joseph, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Trevor Ariza, Richaun Holmes
OffRtg - 106.3 OffRtg (23rd), DefRtg - 108.9 (16th), NetRtg - minus-2.6 (21st)
Sacramento has been in their own funk throughout the season with peaks and valleys all along the way. Head coach Luke Walton has slowed down the pace of the Kings, which is puzzling to me with how athletic they are. Also, no surprise, but relying on Ariza to play heavy minutes has backfired (Suns fans know all too well about that).
Also similarly to Phoenix, the injury bug has bitten this roster hard at inopportune times. Fox and Bagley, their two primary long-term pillars, have been out for multiple stretches. And now both won’t be available tonight when Phoenix rolls into the Golden 1 Center.
One bright spot for Sacramento this season, though, has been former Sun Richaun Holmes. Baynes has helped soothe Holmes’ absence in the Valley, but Holmes might’ve found a long-term home with a division rival. If not, he’s going to be paid significantly in free agency as one of the best center options. Holmes is averaging 12.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 29.1 minutes per game for Sacramento, displaying what he can do in a bigger role.
With no Fox and Bagley for the Kings tonight, all eyes will be on Holmes while Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic can also catch fire from the perimeter at any moment. The last time Phoenix visited Sacramento, they were blitzed by hot shooting. If that happens again, it could be another long, frustrating night for the Suns.
OffRtg - 109.8 (10th), DefRtg - 110.6 (T19th), NetRtg - minus-0.8 (15th)
What has happened to the Suns since their 7-4 start? They were the talk of the NBA as the biggest early season surprise, but the wheels have fallen off since then going 4-16 over the last 20 games. Injuries have played a huge part in that missing Booker, Ayton, Baynes, Rubio, and Cameron Johnson for different stretches, but the steep drop off shouldn’t be this significant.
Since then, the Suns are playing more like a bottom tier team in the Western Conference compared to an actual playoff contender. What’s going to give for Phoenix, and when will the switch finally flip back over? Who knows at this rate, but a lot of factors have led to this longstanding slump.
Diving into the team advanced numbers for a moment, the difference is eye-opening from the first 11 games compared to the last 20:
7-4 start: 111.6 OffRtg (3rd), 105.0 DefRtg (12th), 6.5 NetRtg (4th)
4-16 stretch: 108.8 OffRtg (T16th), 113.8 DefRtg (26th), minus-5.0 NetRtg (23rd)
So, in total, the Suns have been 2.8 points worse per 100 possessions on offense, while also cratering defensively by 8.8 points. It looks like the surprising start just wasn’t sustainable when you see how hot the Suns were shooting from deep, plus opponents were ice cold themselves. Once regression hit Phoenix, it arrived like a ton of bricks.
Now, the real question is what Suns GM James Jones will do if this slide continues. Will Phoenix be buyers and make a playoff push, or instead accept their likely fate as a 12-13 seed in the West? It’s going to be very interesting to see what direction Jones decides to go in up until February’s trade deadline.
All signs were pointing to the Suns snapping out of their funk Friday night at Golden State, but that of course didn’t happen. With another shorthanded opponent on tap, especially with no Fox or Bagley, should we assume the Suns finally crack their own code?
Maybe I’m going too out on a limb with how this team has played lately in clutch situations, but I’m predicting a close victory here. It’s time for Phoenix to finally make a statement, and this would certainly qualify on the second night of a back-to-back.
Suns 119, Kings 113