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GAME 17 - at Phoenix

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Lose 1, win 1, lose 1, win 4, lose 3, win 3, lose 3.

It could have been even streakier, if Chris Duhon didn't happen in Game 2 at Chicago.

So, are the Kings inconsistent? Uh, yeah.

That odd "+4,-3,+3,-4" pattern can be completed tonight if, as expected by nearly everyone in the free world, the Kings drop the second game of a back-to-back (we need a good acronym for this) in Phoenix.

Ron Artest won't be playing again, which is a pretty damn big story in itself. I understand how serious sore backs can get, but um, this town ran Peja Stojakovic out of town partly because of a strained finger caused by a loose ball struggle. A balky back thanks to a cramped Mercedes-Benz isn't going to earn much more sympathy.

Alas, Mike D'Antoni isn't going to show any pity. Thanks to the Wizards, the Suns are now the hottest team in the league. And the spread tonight is larger than it was for either of the games in Texas, which says something about the adjusting national opinions of Phoenix and Sacramento.

No one likes a convict who belabors his own execution, so without further adieu...

THE STARTERS:

SACRAMENTO
PG - Mike Bibby looks not like the best never-been-All-Star'd player in the league, but one of the most overpaid point guards thus far.
SG - Kevin Martin has now had one bad home game, one mediocre home game, and not a single below-average road game. (Shot well in Dallas; no one played defense, so no starters got minutes.) Remember last year when he was Kobe at home and Mateen Cleaves on the road? How times change.
SF - A player who has looked good in most Kings defeats lately? That's John Salmons.
PF - Shareef Abdur-Rahim questions this piece of game thread voodoo, in which suggestions are passively-agressively made via clear mistakes.
C  - In contrast, Brad Miller embraces this voodoo, hoping to remind Eric Musselman why he is the $10 million man. (Yes, Brad Miller is 10 times the man Ted DiBiase is.)

PHOENIX
PG - I, like Mark Cuban and untold many others, was absolutely wrong about Steve Nash's projected health circa July 2004.
SG - Raja Bell and Ron Artest are not friends. So yes, it is sad that Ron Artest will not play tonight.
SF - Boris Diaw's value has peaked. I'm glad Phoenix signed him to a big payday after his possibly flukey good season.
PF - Shawn Marion on any other team (read: a normal team will actual rebounders, and without Steve Nash) is not as good as Shawn Marion on Phoenix. I'm trying to think of another player so perfectly perfect for his situation, and I'm coming up empty.
C  - F*ck, Amare Stoudemire is actually back. This really sucks.


THE LINE:
The Suns are favored by 10. Here are the margins for their last six home games (all wins): 9, 12, 3, 9, 6, 18, 11, 6. Interestingly, Milwaukee was a 10-point dog in Phoenix on Friday and lost by six. (But Milwaukee was on two days' rest.) The Suns are one of those teams you can always come back on - with such a high rate of possessions, the time it takes to reduce a lead is significantly shortened. The Kings seem to be getting good at getting games close (save Dallas), so I think single-digits is doable. I'm taking the Kings and the points. I'm 5-8 on the season. (Bah.)

INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT NOTE:
The bench situation could be tremendously ugly. With Salmons starting, Ronnie Price and Francisco Garcia could play a bigger role than Musselman is comfortable with against a team with this type of scheme. Corliss Williamson, who can't really defend anyone, shouldn't even be able to think about guarding any of the Suns bigs not named Kurt Thomas (and he's loads bigger than Nasty). The Miller-Thomas-Abdur-Rahim trifecta is going to have to score reliably, and Kevin Martin might have to pour in 40 to give the Kings a fighting chance.

PRE-GAME HAIKU:
STAT (Amare), or
Kenny Thomas? - a pickle,
quizzing paradox.

Ze game ztarts at ze early hour of zsix o'clock Pazific. Vive le shockeur!