That was garbage. The Phoenix Suns entered Wednesday’s contest with a new coach and a 3-17 record on the road. The Kings proceeded to gift wrap a victory to Lindsay Hunter by playing their sloppiest ball of the season. Surprisingly, this game was still Sacramento’s for the taking early in the fourth quarter. But questionable substitutions, more disinterest in the basketball and the emergence of Kings killers Michael Beasley and Luis Scola gave the Suns a 106-96 victory.
VALUING THE BALL – With 24 turnovers, the Kings set a season-high in the category. The team just showed a general aversion to holding the rock. From big men trying to do too much to guards failing to organize the offense, it was a failure on every level. The Kings actually shot 48.1 percent from the field, outrebounded the Suns 49-30 and led by eight at halftime. But the offense just couldn’t settle down when it mattered most.
NIGHTMARISH BENCH – Sometimes you seriously have to question Keith Smart (OK, maybe more than sometimes). Does he not recognize what works and what doesn’t? Smart continues to employ the “line-shift” strategy, sending in five reserves to play together. The Kings bench wasn’t getting the job done, just like many nights in recent weeks. In the first half, Smart saw this and decided to mix and match — Thomas Robinson played alongside DeMarcus Cousins, Travis Outlaw manned the small forward spot, and Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette played guard. That unit went “+7″ over the final four minutes of the half, showing great balance and energy. So it was a bit baffling when Smart again turned to the five-reserve lineup with 9:37 left in the game and the Kings clinging to a three-point lead. Three minutes later, the Kings were down seven…a 10-point swing in 180 seconds. What part of the Aaron Brooks-Marcus Thornton-James Johnson-Travis Robinson-Chuck Hayes lineup is so tantalizing for Keith Smart? The coach clearly let the game get out of hand by playing this ineffective group. Staggering the substitutions is a must for this team.
BEASTLY BIGS – The Kings got great efforts from DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson, and as mentioned earlier, the two played together in a potential glimpse of the future for Kings fans. Cousins (37 MIN, 15 PTS, 7-18 FG, 15 REB, 5 AST, 6 TO, 2 STL, 1 BLK) was frustrated all night by the physical punishment he was taking down low, and I would have bet money he’d be picking up a technical at some point. But amazingly, DMC avoided the big blowup and was the Kings worker in the paint. The turnovers and shooting percentage aren’t what you’d like, but you can’t hate the effort of Cousins. Meanwhile, Robinson (26 MIN, 12 PTS, 6-9 FG, 14 REB, 2 AST, 3 TO) was thrust into a bigger role with Jason Thompson saddled with fouls. T-Rob continues to make strides. Most notable against the Suns was his patience on offense. Robinson attacked when given the opportunity, but also held back, froze defenders nicely with hesitation moves and finished with power around the basket. His rebounding is becoming common as he’s committed himself to being a Rodman-like glass cleaner. After a brutal start to the year, Robinson is finally showing some of the skills that made him a top-5 pick.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – The Kings bench turned the ball over 11 times, equal to the Suns entire team … Tyreke Evans (33 MIN, 16 PTS, 6-14 FG, 6 REB, 4 AST, 3 TO, 2 STL, 1 BLK) played a strong all-around game. He appears to be almost fully recovered from his knee injury … Aaron Brooks (15 MIN, 8 PTS, 2-3 FG, 1 AST, 4 TO) dribbled into trouble way too many times against Phoenix. When he looks for his own offense, he’s actually quite effective. But when he starts trying to squeeze by defenders and throw careless passes, he’s a detriment and has no business playing ahead of Fredette … James Johnson (22 MIN, 14 PTS, 6-9 FG, 6 REB, 4 TO, 4 BLK) showed his good and bad sides in this one. He played some power forward and finished well in the key. But these conversions gave him too much confidence, and he turned into the James Johnson who plays totally outside of himself.