With DeMarcus Cousins ruled out with a stomach ailment and Ryan Hollins out for personal reasons, the Sacramento Kings were forced to go smaller than we usually see. Combine that with a directive to play faster from management and an opponent that seeks to run at every opportunity, the Friday night affair with the Phoenix Suns turned into a full-on track meet. Unfortunately for the Kings, the Suns featured a more talented squad better equipped to play that style, and outraced the Kings to a 115-106 victory.
The Kings were beaten in several predictable facets. First, the starting lineup featuring Reggie Evans and Jason Thompson was too offensively limited to work. The Suns, featuring the solid interior defense of Alex Len and Miles Plumlee, were able to zone away from their assignments at will and made life extremely tough for Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, and Rudy Gay, who shot a combined 17/41 (41%) from the field. Second, the Kings were forced to go with Carl Landry at center off the bench, forcing the Kings to constantly bring extra help into the paint and leave open shooters. The Suns made 14 threes at a solid 42% clip and racking up 25 assists on the night. Lastly, the Kings continue to let stretch fours go off; both Morris twins were difference makers in the game, with Markieff adding 17 points on 8/11 shooting and Marcus adding 20 on 7/12 shooting (and 6/7 from three).
Offensively, it wasn't all bad. Evans, while showing a disturbing lack of touch around the rim and willingness to pass out of double and triple teams in the paint, crashed the glass hard to rack up 16 rebounds on the night, 9 of them offensive. Derrick Williams exploded for 16 points on 7/9 shooting from the field; the game's wide open style allowed Williams to wreak havoc in transition with his athleticism. Ray McCallum played solidly, despite his inability to finish around the rim against Phoenix's size, adding five assists and zero turnovers in his 26 minutes. Omri Casspi chipped in 11 points of his own. McLemore, Gay and Collison were able to chug their way to life when the Kings went small, but could not add enough to win.
Isaiah Thomas made his triumphant return to Sacramento with 17 points and five assists on the night at a 7/17 shooting clip. He also got into it with the Kings and their fans, exchanging a bump with Casspi and mean-mugging after every dagger shot he made. Thomas didn't set the arena on fire with his play, but played solidly enough to beat the Kings without Cousins.
The Kings now fall to 12-17 on the year and lose valuable ground against Phoenix for the final playoff spot in the West. Although it is widely accepted that Oklahoma City will eventually claim the spot, the Kings' brain trust expects this roster to remain competitive in the race. Unfortunately, that is looking like a longshot at the moment. But, with five teams coming up next on the schedule under .500, the team could have a better idea where they are at. We will see if its good enough or not for Vivek Ranadive and company as they contemplate their next moves.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Bright Side of the Sun