Suns-Kings Game Preview: April 3

By Kate Hedlin
Posted: April 3, 2012

The Phoenix Suns are trying to climb into the Western Conference's top eight, but that may be impossible unless they play better on the road against conference foes.

The Suns open a three-game road trip Tuesday night against the Sacramento Kings.

Phoenix is in 10th place in the West - two games behind Houston for the final playoff spot and one game back of ninth-place Utah.

The Suns (26-26) bounced back from consecutive losses with a 92-75 win over New Orleans on Sunday.

Playing its first game since Grant Hill had surgery on his right knee, Phoenix put together one of its better defensive performances of the season. The Suns forced 19 turnovers and held the Hornets to 34 points in the second half.

Jared Dudley scored 21 points, Steve Nash had 14 assists and Channing Frye added 14 points and 11 rebounds.

"We had to come out and get the win," Dudley said. "We are at home, fighting for playoffs. We see that Houston has been losing, Utah has been losing, so we have to keep it going. It is going to come down to the road games, so the home games are must-wins. It doesn't matter who comes here."

Phoenix, though, plays seven of its next eight on the road, visiting the Jazz on Wednesday and the Rockets on April 13. The Suns are 10-15 on the road, including 4-12 against West foes.

To improve on that record, they are looking to increase their defensive intensity. They are 1-5 in their last six road games against conference opponents, allowing more than 100 points in all five defeats.

"We know that we are going to have to play well and we are going to have games that we have to win and a lot of those games are going to be on the road," coach Alvin Gentry said. "For us, (Sunday was) our first playoff game and we get on a plane and fly to Sacramento and that will be our next playoff game. I think that's the way we have to approach it."

A visit to the Pacific Division-worst Kings presents Phoenix with a good opportunity to start the trip on a positive note - the Suns won 98-84 in California's capital Feb. 11 - but Sacramento (19-34) won for the second time in three games Monday, defeating Minnesota 116-108.

The Kings have given up at least 103 points in eight straight games, but they tightened their defense late Monday, allowing 22 points in the fourth quarter after opening the period with an 11-0 run.

Tyreke Evans had 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists while DeMarcus Cousins scored 20 points and added nine rebounds. Sacramento had a 46-35 rebounding advantage, scoring 60 points in the paint.

Evans' numbers are getting better as he continues to adjust to a new position, and he's shooting 56.8 percent in his last nine games.

"I still put him in a position to be a playmaker," coach Keith Smart said. "Tonight was a game where he could push it up and make plays. He's a small forward with point guard skills."

After taking the final three meetings with the Suns in 2010-11, the Kings have lost both this season, shooting a combined 36.9 percent.

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