Suns visit Kings in battle of struggling clubs
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- For the Sacramento Kings and the Phoenix Suns, the learning curve is a topic never far away from any conversation regarding the state of their teams.
Some of it has been painful, too, especially recently.
"We just seemed to be a step slower," Phoenix coach Jay Triano said after the Suns' turnover-filled, 104-101 home loss the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.
"I'm tired of saying it's just a learning experience," Sacramento guard Buddy Hield said after the Kings' similarly lackluster and sloppy 102-87 home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
The two teams, both mired in the bottom third of the Western Conference standings, come together Tuesday night for a meeting at Golden 1 Center. For both of them, that equates to one key thing: Play more consistently with the lessons already learned.
For the Kings (8-18), that means fewer turnovers and a better start, two by-products of better physical and mental effort, players said.
De'Andre Fox committed seven turnovers in 23 minutes against Toronto, six in the opening half. Hield turned it over six times. Sacramento totaled 21 giveaways overall against the Raptors, six more than its season average, and Toronto scored 27 points off the turnovers.
The Kings also went scoreless in the game's first 3:15 and found themselves down 17-2 early. They average only 23.0 points in the first 12 minutes and have been held below 20 nine times in their 26 first quarters.
"It's frustrating," Fox said. "We all have those games, but just have to get back into practice, focus on taking care of the ball, and just look forward to playing Phoenix."
In one way, the Suns (9-19) are almost a mirror image of Sacramento. Phoenix turns over the ball an average of 16 times, the second-worst mark in the NBA.
In another, the Suns are not. Phoenix is the second-highest scoring team in the NBA at 107.1 points per game, and it tends to start faster. The Suns are averaging nearly 24 points in the opening 12 minutes of their past five games, and that includes a 17-point opening quarter in the loss to San Antonio.
However, a glaring lack of energy, especially early, cost the Suns in that one.
"They just had more heart than us," Phoenix forward Marquese Chriss told the Arizona Republic. "You have to take it personal. If I had an answer (about the missing energy), it would've been there in the first half. I couldn't tell you."
The Suns, who beat the Kings 117-115 in Phoenix on Oct. 23 in the only other meeting between the clubs this season, have played their past two contests without leading scorer Devin Booker. The 21-year-old is out with a strained adductor muscle and is expected to miss at least another week, if not two.
With Booker sidelined, Chriss has played his best basketball this season. Chriss has scored 26 points and tallied 10 rebounds in 49 combined minutes during the two games Booker has missed. His 15-point effort against the Spurs was his second-highest scoring effort of the season.
The Kings expect the return of center Willie Cauley-Stein from a three-game absence caused by a strained lower back.
Updated December 11, 2017