PHOENIX — Playing hard hasn’t been the problem. Neither has a lack of depth or talent. Sure, there have been deficiencies on both sides of the floor, but overall, the Phoenix Suns have had no...

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Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: FSA So much for the fast start. After racing out to an impressive 5-2 record, the Phoenix Suns have fallen back to earth a little bit, following three straight losses by a...

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After losing in the final seconds -- for the third time in a row -- the Phoenix Suns try to get revenge less than 24 hours against the Kings as part of a home-and-home series against their Pacific Division foe.

The Suns and Kings are in the middle of a home-and-home against each other. The Suns couldn't hold a solid second-half lead against a bad team, allowing the Kings to tie the game at 95-95 with 6 minutes to play and folding for a 10-0 Kings run to end the game.

The Suns now are on a three-game losing streak, with back-to-back-to-back last second losses by a total of 6 points.

The opponent

The Kings have been bad this year. Eight of their first ten games at home, yet only going 3-7 with one of the worst defenses in the league and a barely better offense.

Yet they beat the Suns once again. The Suns have been bad against the Kings the last few years, especially in Sacramento.

DeMarcus Cousins has eaten the Suns centers for lunch. Cousins went off for 19 first-half points, despite the Suns taking an 8-point lead into halftime, before hurting his shoulder and becoming an afterthought in the second half until he was a difference-maker at the end of the 4th in the 10-0 run with steals, rebounds and scores.

The Suns

The Suns still can't consistently get Bledsoe and Dragic on the court together. Last night, it was Bledsoe's turn to miss the game and Dragic struggled to run the team at the end of the game when it got tight.

Archie Goodwin showed flashes of his summer league self in that second quarter last night - scoring 12 points on 5-7 shooting and making a 3-ball, but also creating three of those shots thanks to his defense with breakaway steals in the second quarter.

In fact, the entire team got hot for a while there during a 19-2 team run that included several threes in a row, including one from 19-year old Goodwin.

Marcus Morris was hot as well, making his first five jumpers and drawing shooting fouls to the tune of 14 first-half points, and 19 for the game overall.

And then there was Gerald Green with his season high

In the "bad" column, we got downside of the big yoyo called Markieff Morris. After being the best player in the WC for a week, he's been really bad for the past week. I mean, really bad. Last night: 3 points, 0 rebounds. 5 personal fouls in 10 minutes of play. Take a seat, young man.

And then there's Goran Dragic, who had almost as many turnovers (7) as assists (8) on the night.

The stats

Screen_shot_2013-11-20_at_6

The Suns are supposedly a much better defensive team than the Kings, and even a little better on offense. A check through the stats shows you why.

The lineups

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It's probably going to be a game-time decision on whether leading scorer Eric Bledsoe will play in Phoenix after missing last night's game due to a shin bruise. If he sits, Gerald Green slides into the starting lineup at SG while Dragic becomes the full-time PG.

The key matchup

Any matchup against DeMarcus Cousins is a tough matchup, but the Suns have no success no matter who defends the guy. Cousins is just a beast. So it's not really a key matchup.

Let's say the real matchup is the rookie shooting guards, Archie Goodwin vs. Ben McLemore. It's not that they play against each other necessarily, as McLemore starts while Goodwin sometimes doesn't get big minutes off the bench. But Suns fans will remember that McLemore was at one point considered the #1 prospect in college last season and he was available when the Suns picked at #5. The Suns passed on Ben in order to take Alex Len, and then they drafted Archie Goodwin at #29.

Last night, Goodwin had his best game of the year with 16 points on 7-10 shooting with 2 assists and 2 steals in 19 minutes of play - all career highs (in a 10-game rookie career). Six of his points were on breakaways off a Kings turnover - two of them created by Goodwin himself. Goodwin was very good last night.

McLemore has had a lot more opportunity to play, playing in all 10 games for the Kings and starting four of them so far. Ben has had four games of 10+ points with 6 games at less than 10. When he's good, he's good. But just like any rookie, he disappears as well. He's making 36% of his threes, but just 38% overall.

The prediction

Suns win at home. For the good of their psyche.

The Suns are the only NBA team to lead in every fourth quarter, yet they are tied at 5-5. Does that mean that close games - those that come down to the wire - often have random outcomes that eventually even out?

If so, then the ball is likely to start bouncing the Suns' way again soon.

The Phoenix Suns play the second game of a home-and-home series tonight in Phoenix at US Airways Center after losing last night's game in the final seconds. Let's get the inside scoop on the Kings right here.

The Sacramento Kings are a team in transition, trying to implement a new system with many of the same players who struggled for them in recent seasons.

Today, we have a Q and A with Kings writer Greg Wissinger of SB Nation's SacTownRoyalty.com. Let's see what he has to say about his Kings team.

Dave King: How is Michael Malone's tenure going so far? On the surface, it appears to be a rocky road - a 3-7 start with 8 of those 10 at home already. He came in with a reputation for defense, yet the Kings are 25th in defensive efficiency. Is Malone the right fit?

Greg Wissinger: Malone's tenure is off to a rocky start, but a lot of that has to do with the talent, or lack thereof, on the Kings roster. Malone's biggest challenge has been getting guys to provide a consistent effort for a full 48 minutes. As we saw in Tuesday's game, the Kings are still prone to serious lapses and giving up big runs. A lot of this seems to be residual bad habits from past regimes. I think it's a little too early to determine if Malone is the right fit, but so far I've been impressed with him. He puts his money where his mouth is, and I think he's got the organization's support. Long term, I believe he'll help change the culture.

DK: How has DeMarcus Cousins been so up and down, from game to game? After getting a max extension, has he been saying the right things and being a leader?

GW: DeMarcus Cousins has been up and down, sure, but he's been far more up than down. He's already had as many 30 point games as he did all of last season. And although he's still prone to outbursts and complaining, he's been much better this season about maintaining his composure. He's also been hustling back on defense far more than he did in the past. He's also taken responsibility for his actions more than we've ever seen in the past. Thus far, DeMarcus is looking like he's earning that max extension. Of course, it's still early in the year and anything can happen.


DK: Isaiah Thomas has been killing it from the bench (17 and 5), while Grieves Vasquez has been just okay in the starting role (10 and 5) as far the stats indicate. At both playing 27-28 minutes, it appears the Kings do the 2-PG lineup at least occasionally. What's your take on that? And, was Vasquez a good acquisition.

GW: Isaiah Thomas has been fantastic off the bench, while Vasquez's stats have been less gaudy as a starter. But the minute distribution that you mentioned is the key. For the first time in his NBA career, Isaiah Thomas is being given a clearly defined role with reliable minutes. He's a fantastic spark plug off the bench, and I'm personally fine with it. It's also worth remembering that Vasquez was recovering from an ankle injury this offseason, and barely played in preseason. The first few games of this season were essentially his first opportunity to work with his new teammates. Overall, I'm still happy with Vasquez. And while he wasn't the offseason acquisition that Kings fans wanted this offseason, he was a nice return since the Kings decided not to retain Tyreke Evans.

DK: Suns fans are going to watch McLemore for his entire career after the Suns passed on him to draft Alex Len. Did the Kings get a steal in Ben McLemore? How do you see his future playing out?

GW: I think the Kings absolutely got a steal in McLemore. He's been exciting even when he struggles. He's still adjusting to the pace of the NBA, and needs to let the game come to him rather than forcing shots, but I have very high hopes for him. He's a very hard worker, one of the few Kings who gives consistent effort every night, and his shooting stroke is a thing of beauty. I think he has the potential to be a All-Star player, and I'll be shocked if he ends up being anything less than an above average shooting guard in this league.

DK: Finally, do you see the Kings turning this around and coming a winning team with this core, or does the core have to be rebooted?

GW: It's important to remember that most of the current Kings roster is still the roster than was constructed by Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs. There are some good pieces on the current roster, but outside of Cousins and McLemore, there could be a ton of movement. Even Isaiah Thomas might be moved, as much as it would break the hearts of Kings fans. New GM Pete D'Allessandro has a lot of work ahead of him. This current roster can't contend for a playoff spot. But within a year or two, I absolutely expect the roster to be competitive and to look quite a bit different.

For more on the Kings, check out the great coverage over at Sactown Royalty

The Suns let a fourth-quarter lead slip past them and fell to the Kings, 107-104. Phoenix has now lost three straight games by a total of 6 points.

Another close game, another heart-breaking ending for the Phoenix Suns. The Kings defeated Phoenix 107-104 after they went on a 10-0 run late in the game to steal a game the Suns had total control of throughout much of the second half.

First Quarter

The Kings entered the game with a 2-7 record, whereas the Suns were 5-4. Phoenix was missing Eric Bledsoe, who sat out to rest a bruised shin. The Kings came out sharp in the first quarter and took advantage of a surprisingly lethargic Suns defense. Rookie Ben McLemore scored 8 points in the first period and Sacramento took a 33-25 lead into the second quarter.

Second Quarter

The second quarter was all Phoenix Suns Marcus Morris and Archie Goodwin. Marcus used up all the twin mojo for the night and gave the Suns a much-needed spark of the bench. Archie also came out with tremendous energy and fueled a 37 point outburst from the Suns in the second quarter, the highest-scoring period of the season for Phoenix. Archie had two fantastic steals and breakaway dunks in the second quarter and even managed to hit a three-pointer. He also celebrated every play he made on the floor tonight with plenty of emotion. It's amazing what some confidence can do for a player like him - he started his night with a strong drive to draw a foul and kept up the energy on the defensive end by forcing turnovers, which led to points on the other end, which in turn gave him the confidence to shoot and make jumpshots.

Third Quarter

The Suns began the second half with an 8-point lead (which was stretched to as much as 15 at one point) and more or less kept pace throughout much of the third quarter. Gerald Green in particular was great during that stretch, making three pointers, throwing down a vicious one-handed slam dunk off of a beautiful dish from Dragic, and even throwing a lob to Miles Plumlee on a fast-break. He and Ben McLemore got into a bit of a competition, as both guys were making similar plays on both ends of the floor.

Fourth Quarter

Phoenix took a 6 point lead into the 4th quarter and maintained their streak of being the only team in the NBA to have led in the final period of every game thus far into the NBA season. However, Kings quickly cut their deficit and the game became a back-and-forth for much of the fourth quarter...until the final three minutes. Gerald Green made a 3-pointer to give the Suns a 7 point lead with 3:35 left and the Kings called a timeout. Following the break, Phoenix failed to score the rest of the game and Sacramento went on a 10-run to close out and leave with a 107-104 win.

The Killer Stretch

Let's take a look at the Suns' offensive possessions in the last 3:35 of the game, which again resulted in ZERO points:

  • 3:04 - Turnover on Dragic
  • 2:33 - Cousins steals the ball from Dragic
  • 2:06 - Ish Smith misses a three-pointer
  • 2:05 - Frye offensive rebound
  • 2:00 - Frye airball
  • 1:29 - 3-second violation on Plumlee
  • 0:59.6 - Turnover on Dragic
  • 0:31.4 - Isaiah Thomas steals the ball from Ish Smith
  • 0:22.9 - Cousins steals the ball from Dragic
  • 0:6.9 - Dragic missed fade-away 17-footer
  • 0:1.9 - Marcus Morris missed three-pointer
  • 0:00 - Gerald Green missed shot from past half-court

In summation, that's 6 turnovers, 5 missed shots and 0 points in crunch time. If you woke up this morning with a burning desire to find the answer to "how to lose a basketball game," you were in luck. Of course, I could also refer you to the majority of Suns games from last season as well if you're into that sort of masochism.

On the Kings' front, Demarcus Cousins has another strong game against Phoenix, finishing with 27 points and 12 rebounds on 50% shooting from the field. Ben McLemore tallied 19 points (5-13 from the field, 4-10 on threes) and 5 rebounds and Isaiah Thomas continued to be Sacramento's super-sub, ending the night with 19 points and 3 assists in just 24 minutes.

The Negatives

Let's get the negatives out of the way first...

  • Goran Dragic's 4th quarter zeroics - Dragic was one of the best crunch-time performers last season (and even in the 2011-12 season in Houston), so his fourth quarter tonight was uncharacteristically atrocious. Dragic struggled with his shot most of the game but did a great job of getting his teammates involved and making fantastic passes throughout most of the game...until the last 4 minutes. Dragic turned the ball over 4 times (!!!) in the last 3 and a half minutes, including twice in the last minute (!!!!!!). He also missed a tough turnaround jumper that would have tied the game with 7 seconds remaining. Isaiah Thomas played strong defense on Dragic most of the night, but Goran's errors at the end of the game were mainly just issues of him trying to force plays, which resulted from the overall offensive stagnation. One game does not make or break a player, so we should consider this an outlier for Goran Dragic.
  • More Goodwin = Less Bad Loss - I think Jeff Hornacek is an absolutely fantastic coach for this team and I'm a big fan, but in these last three losses, he has made some curious decisions at the end of games. In Portland, he took Plumlee out on the last defensive possession, which led to a wide open game-winning layup from Damian Lillard. Tonight, he didn't play Archie Goodwin enough. After a fantastic first half and some good plays in the 4th quarter, Archie left the game with about 8 minutes left and never returned. I understand he's a rookie, but his energy had clearly had a positive effect whenever he was on the floor and he definitely should have seen more time late in the game. Again, this is only the 10th game of Hornacek's coaching career, so we can chalk these up as lessons.
  • Player of the Weak, Markieff Morris: Markieff played 11 minutes tonight and finished with 3 points (all from free throws; he didn't have a single field goal attempt), 0 rebounds, 0 assists and 5 fouls. He was never able to get into rhythm because of foul trouble and was rendered completely ineffective tonight. His fifth foul was a real killer, as he hit Ben McLemore on a three-point attempt with 4 seconds left in the third quarter, which allowed the Kings to cut the Suns' lead to 6 points and carry momentum over to the fourth.

The Positives

  • Archie Amazing - A career high 16 points (7-10 from the field) to go with 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and plenty of smiles. Great performance from the rookie tonight and he was clearly enjoying himself. If he played more than 19 minutes, I'm sure we'd all be smiling more right now. MANDATORY REMINDER: Archie Goodwin is 19 years old. Check out Archie's highlights:


  • Marcus Markieff Marcus Markieff Marcus Morris - Marcus was by far the superior twin tonight. He finished the night with 19 points and 3 rebounds in his 24 minutes off the bench. His final shot with 1.9 seconds left (which would have given the Suns the lead) may have missed, but I actually think that was a good play call from Jeff Hornacek - a baseline in-bounds pass from Marcus to Markieff, who passed it back to Mook for the three. However, the spacing wasn't great and Marcus' attempt was contested.
  • Channing Frye - 17 points (7-13 from the field, 3-6 on threes), 9 rebounds, 1 block and a +9 on the night in 30 minutes. He is not a scrub.
  • Alex Len...played - The fact that Len played even 5 minutes is a positive, right? He finished with 0 points and 0 rebounds but he had 1 assist and 1 steal. And he was on the floor! Progress!

This may have been yet another tough loss for Phoenix but as always, there are positives to take away (BRIGHT SIDE, people!). Hopefully, the Suns will start to show that they're actually learning from these experiences by maintaining their leads and closing out games. In fact, they can show that tomorrow night in Phoenix against this same Kings team!

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