Suns Look to Bounce Back at Struggling Sacramento

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The Kings had the look of a sleeper team in the preseason, beating the likes of the Clippers and Warriors, as well as the Suns.

The regular season has been a different story. Sacramento is just 2-7, though they did manage to beat the same Nets team that escaped US Airways Center with a one-point, overtime win last week.

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It’s not hard to see where things have gone wrong for the part-Shaq-owned Kings. They’re not scoring enough (93.0 ppg, 26th in NBA). They’re not rebounding enough (39.4 rpg, 28th). They’re not passing enough (19.8 apg, 22nd).

Sacramento went into this season intending to rely on fourth-year big man DeMarcus Cousins, and they have done just that. He is averaging career highs in points (21.2), blocks (1.4), steals (1.7) and shot attempts epr game (18.0), as well as field goal percentage (47.5).

The problem is he hasn’t received much help. Isaiah Thomas, the former 60th and last overall pick in the 2011 draft, is the second-leading scorer on the team (17.8 ppg). Marcus Thornton and Greivis Vasquez have regressed. Prized rookie Ben McLemore is shooting a woeful 37.9 percent from the field. The starting power forward spot has already changed hands from Patrick Patterson to Jason Thompson.

In short, things have not gone according to plan in “Shaqramento.”

KEY MATCHUP

When these teams played each other in the preseason, DeMarcus Cousins went off for 29 points, nine rebounds and six steals.

Phoenix was still distributing even minutes across the roster at that point in an effort to gauge its collective talent. This time around, Cousins should see a healthy dose of Miles Plumlee, who is hoping to bounce back after allowing Brook Lopez to score 27 on Friday.

Cousins doesn’t boast the length that Lopez does, but he’s a lot bigger at 270 pounds. Team defense may play as much of a factor in containing Cousins as Plumlee’s direct work, but the effectiveness of the latter will determine how much of the former will be required.

OPPONENT X-FACTOR

Before the team flew to Sacramento on Monday, Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek admitted that the Kings are “a lot like us.” The comparison stems from both teams’ ability to see a different player get hot in any given game. In the preseason, the Suns saw that first-hand in the form of Jimmer Fredette (23 points, 9-of-15 FG).

Hornacek has stressed that he’s fine with stars getting their points as long as role players are limited.

They’ve seen the effectiveness of that strategy splitting two games with Portland this month. When they won, Damian Lillard and LeMarcus Aldridge combined for 60 points, but no one else scored in double-figures. When they lost, five different Blazers eclipsed the 10-point mark.

Cousins could very well put up big numbers again tonight, but the Suns will be even more concerned if one his currently slumping teammates (Thornton, McLemore, John Salmons) get going at their expense.

FINAL THOUGHT

P.J. Tucker said after Friday’s one-point loss to Brooklyn that he wished they could play the next day. Instead, he and the Suns have had three days to prepare/wait until today’s matchup in Sacramento.

Hornacek, however, said the team had two effort-filled days at practice, a likely byproduct from the Suns’ collective desire to move on after their double-dose of heartbreak last week.

After nine consecutive games of tight finishes, don’t be shocked if Phoenix tries to make more comfortable statement against a struggling team.