Suns Hope to Solve Struggles Against Kings

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Riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak, the Suns now face the only team they have played more than once and not beaten.

Phoenix’s Friday night game against the Kings marks the third time the two teams have met in less than four weeks. Sacramento has just six wins to its name, but earned two of them at the Suns’ expense thanks to the overwhelming presence of DeMarcus Cousins (46 points, 24 rebounds total) and their effort on the glass (plus-22 rebounding advantage over Phoenix).

“They’ve beaten us twice and we didn’t play our best ball,” said Suns Head Coach Jeff Horancek. “To their credit they did a lot of things that stopped that. They’ve got a hard guy to deal with in Cousins. Isaiah Thomas played well against us. I’m sure they’re going into the game saying ‘I’m sure that’s a team we can beat.’”

The Kings’ memory will be slightly flawed in that Eric Bledsoe was not available in the previous two games due to a bruised shin. He has since recovered and is coming off an 18-point, nine-assist, three-steal performance at L.A.

Sacramento is also a changed team, boasting recently acquired forward Rudy Gay after a trade with the Toronto Raptors. Gay will make his Kings debut tonight exactly a week after visiting Phoenix as a member of the Raptors.

Hornacek, however, plans on leaning on lessons learned from previous games while relying on basic defensive schemes to account for Gay in the lineup.

“We can’t think that they’re going to come out here with 20 different plays,” Hornacek said. “They’ve only had him for a couple days, so they’re going to keep most of the stuff they’ve run.”

KEY MATCHUP

Isaiah Thomas lit the Suns up for a total of 42 points off the bench in the previous two contests. He is new the starting point guard with Greivis Vasquez now in Toronto, and will look to create the same havoc with his speed and dribble penetration.

Phoenix will counter with Bledsoe, who will share the defensive duties on Thomas with Goran Dragic. The combination should make things more difficult for the Kings and wear out Phoenix’s point guards less in the process.

“Isaiah Thomas is a handful,” Hornacek said. “Maybe we have one guy on him for a while and then when he gets worn out we can have the other guy slip over to him. Hopefully by the end of the game we can wear Isaiah out a little bit and he can be less effective at the end of games.”

OPPONENT X-FACTOR

Sacramento punished Phoenix on the glass in their previous two meetings, but the Suns have shown signs of asserting themselves better in that department. They have won the battle of the boards in their last two games, each by double-digits.

The Lakers and Raptors, however, elected to play small lineups in crunch time. It’s doubtful the Kings will do the same, particularly with Cousins as a two-way threat in the middle.

Either way, Hornacek plans on playing to his team’s in-game strengths rather than racing to catch up in the matchup game.

“Maybe Markieff can guard him and we can take some advantage on the other side,” he said. “We always go by how it’s flowing. If Markieff is rolling, it gets hard to take him back out…we’ll just play that one by ear.”

FINAL THOUGHT

With three victories in a row under their belt, the Suns are tied for the second-longest current win streak in the league, just one game behind the Thunder (four games).

While the streak itself isn’t a big deal, the effect on the standings could be if other teams keep alternating wins and losses. The Suns have already moved up from 12th to seventh in the West since the win streak started, and could move into a tie for sixth of Denver stumbles against Utah tonight.