Nov 19, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) battles against Phoenix Suns power forward Channing Frye (8) during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Sacramento Kings (3-7) at Phoenix Suns (5-5) Preview

Nov 19, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings shooting guard Ben McLemore (16) reacts after dunking the ball against the Phoenix Suns during the third quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Phoenix Suns 107-104. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It was the tale of two halves for the first matchup of our back-to-back: the Kings blew themselves out of the water in the first half of Tuesday’s contest against the Suns with terrible decisions and costly turnovers, but clamped down defensively in the second half and fought their way to a 107-104 victory in Sacramento. Now the two teams head to Phoenix, where the Suns hope their superior depth (proven BIG TIME on Tuesday) and a potential return of start Eric Bledsoe will help them bounce back.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Sacramento Kings:

Phoenix Suns

C: DeMarcus Cousins, 6’11, Kentucky
21.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 47.5% FG
C: Miles Plumlee, 6’11, Duke
10.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 49.4% FG
PF: Jason Thompson, 6’11, Rider
6.7 PPG, 6 RPG, 41.7% FG
PF: Channing Frye, 6’11, Arizona
6.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 33.8% FG
SF: Luc Mbah a Moute, 6’8, UCLA
3 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 35.7% FG
SF: P.J. Tucker, 6’6, Texas
9.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 45.6% FG
SG: Ben McLemore, 6’5, Kansas
7.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 37.9% FG
SG: Gerald Green, 6’8, Gulf Shores Acad.
25.3 MPG, 13.1 PPG, 48.9% FG
PG: Greivis Vasquez, 6’6, Maryland
10.2 PPG, 5.2 APG, 49.3% FG
PG: Goran Dragic, 6’3, Yugoslavia
14.3 PPG, 5 APG, 44.3% FG

Key Bench Players:

G: Isaiah Thomas, 5’11, Washington
28.2 MPG, 17.8 PPG, 4.9 APG, 45.1% FG
G: Archie Goodwin, 6’5, Kentucky
3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 34.4% FG
G: Marcus Thornton, 6’4, LSU
10.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 36.8% FG
F: Marcus Morris, 6’9, Kansas
22.6 MPG, 8.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 40% FG
F: Travis Outlaw, 6’8, Starkville HS
14.8 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 50% FG
F: Markieff Morris, 6’10, Kansas
27.5 MPG, 14.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 55% FG

 

Last Three Contests:

November 18, 2013: Suns @ Kings – Kings 107, Suns 104
March 28, 2013: Kings @ Suns – Kings 117, Suns 103
March 8, 2013: Suns @ Kings – Kings 121, Suns 112

Key Matchup: DeMarcus Cousins vs. Miles Plumlee

In yesterday’s preview, the key matchup was the Kings guards versus Eric Bledsoe (20.8 PPG, 6.8 APG, 4.8 RPG, 50% FG), but Bledsoe didn’t play thanks to a bruised shin. The likelihood of his return for Wednesday’s contest isn’t known yet, but he’d be a big boost to the Suns’ offense that sputtered down the stretch.

Cousins dominated in Tuesday’s victory, and his fantastic night (27 points, 12 boards, three assists, four steals, three blocks) was marred by just a few poor decisions (get the ball to your guards, Cuz!). Miles Plumlee played hard against him, but Cousins is just too strong and agile for him downlow. Channing Frye was FAR less effective than even Plumlee… basically, unless 5th overall pick Alex Len because a defensive monster overnight, the Suns have no one who can stop Cousins.

Three Things to Watch:

1. Second Half Sequel: If the Kings play like they did in the second half of Tuesday’s win – complete with tough defense, gritty offense and the clear knowledge that DeMarcus Cousins can do whatever he wants down low – then they can beat the Suns. If they let the Suns (a faster-paced team than Sacramento) dictate the tempo, force the Kings into terrible turnovers, and basically make Sacramento take shots like they did in the first half… then Phoenix will roll the Kings out of the US Airways Center with little worry.

2. More McLemore: As excellent as it was to see Jimmer Fredette get significant minutes (and play relatively well), Ben McLemore (19 points, five rebounds, above-solid defense) was the best shooting guard for the Kings without question. He faded a bit late, but the Kings need to keep giving McLemore a lions’ share of the responsibility.

It seems Coach Malone is going with the rookie for a majority of the minutes, but will Fredette continue to be the bench shooting guard? Marcus Thornton did not play on Tuesday – was Malone simply making a statement about Thornton’s inconsistent effort? Applauding Fredette’s attitude during a stretch without playing time? A bit of both?

Regardless, the Kings have to know McLemore is their shooting guard of the future. Give him the development time.

3. Three Point Defense: The Kings continued their woes at guarding the three point line, although it got a bit better in the second half when Isaiah Thomas took over full time point guard duties.

The Kings gave up 10 threes, and they were lucky they didn’t give up more. The Suns shot 29 threes, and more than 10 of them were moderately open/wide open. Closing out on the shooters has been a problem all season long for the Kings.  It’ll be far more dangerous on Wednesday if Eric Bledsoe returns and opens up his shooters with his driving ability.

Prediction: Suns 99, Kings 95

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