PHOENIX – Michael Beasley was the first player to be liberated from Lindsey Hunter’s bench, so Thursday night provided even more ammunition for those crediting the Phoenix Suns with tanking.
If The Beas works his way into the starting lineup for Saturday’s date with the Indiana Pacers, the evidence may be judged as overwhelming.
But all we know for sure is that with Goran Dragic on the second night of a back-to-back R&R assignment, the Suns reached 50 losses (against 23 victories) this season by falling, 117-103, to the 27-46 Sacramento Kings.
Regardless of where you might sit on the issue of the Suns losing for potential draft gain, interim coach Hunter and several of the guys in uniform will continue to fight for wins. They’ve lost five in a row and are now 2-10 since losing Marcin Gortat to injury and 10-22 since Hunter took over.
“I’m not accustomed to it,” Hunter said of consistent losing, “and I won’t grow accustomed to it.”
The tipping point in this defeat was an 18-4 run over the last 5:08 of the second quarter by the Kings, whose skilled and enigmatic center, DeMarcus Cousins, fueled a 64-50 cushion by scoring 23 points and collecting 11 rebounds before intermission.
Cousins, who finished with a season-high 34 and 14 overall in only three quarters of work, had a blast while maneuvering without the impediments of Suns centers Marcin Gortat (bum foot) and Jermaine O’Neal (balky calf).
“He can do everything on the floor for a big,” Hunter said of Cousins. “We just try to make him take tough twos and not let him get to the rim, because he can put it on the floor … he can shoot it. He’s a real talented kid, so we just try to make it tough.”
Considering that all Hunter had to throw at Cousins was ground-bound power forward Luis Scola and statuesque Hamed Haddadi, it wasn’t a night for the Suns to climb higher than 22nd among NBA teams for defensive efficiency.
The Kings made 53 percent of their shots from the field and scored a disturbing 62 points in the paint.
So with a considerable amount of their modest firepower and defensive capacity sitting this one out, the Suns maintained a firm grasp on the NBA’s fourth-worst winning percentage. Through Thursday, the distance separating the Suns and the third-seeded (in lottery terms) Cleveland Cavaliers was .001.
In other draft news, the Los Angeles Lakers were bopped by the Bucks in Milwaukee, enabling the idle Utah Jazz to move within a half-game of Kobe and Co. for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Should the Lakers end up ninth or lower, the Suns – you may have heard – would seize L.A.’s lottery pick as the spoils of trading Steve Nash to Hollywood.
Anyway, while providing extended auditions for some of their younger employees Thursday night, the Suns continued zeroing in on what’s almost sure to be their earliest draft selection since 1986.
The Kings, by the way, have been high-lottery regulars for a while now. But instead of taking roll in regard to what they’ve done to still be sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference, let’s take a look at the most compelling Suns story from Thursday. That would be rookie point guard Kendall Marshall, who – on the Suns’ half of the stat sheet – appeared to have a reasonably mediocre game. One night after handing out 13 assists in his first NBA start, Marshall missed 8 of 12 shots from the field (nine points overall) but handed out 10 dimes with only two turnovers.
But a couple of ill-timed, crooked jumpers from Marshall arrived in the closing minutes of Sacramento’s second-quarter salvo.
“Kendall just went on the fritz for a minute,” Hunter said. “I think he looked just like a rookie in that stretch of the game. It’s to be expected. You talk him through it and you teach him.
“I explained to him that’s what happens in this league. You have to be a game manager and all the other things a point guard is supposed to do. He’s learning on the fly, and that’s what this is about.”
While playing understudy to the resting Dragic, the rookie also learned a few lessons from Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas. The 5-foot-9 former 60th overall draft pick posted 11 points and six assists in the first quarter and finished with 23 and 11 without playing during the final period.
For his part, Marshall isn’t ready to turn cartwheels after handing out 23 assists over two games.
“Guys are making shots, so that helps,” Marshall said. “But I’m more worried about the end result. We’re 0-2 with me starting, so I don’t see it as a success at all.
Other numbers from Thursday:
Markieff Morris started at power forward, missed 8 of 10 shots and collected four rebounds in almost 25 minutes. Twin brother Marcus managed to not find a single rebound in over eight minutes off the bench.
Luis Scola made 10 of 13 shots, scored 25 points and gathered seven rebounds when not being bulldozed by Cousins. Nine of his points were collected while the Kings’ big man spectated in the fourth quarter.
Beasley, whose pregame preparation included whistling the tune “This Old Man” while sitting in the Suns’ locker room, made half of his 14 shots (rare accuracy for The Beas at home) from the field but missed both of his free-throw attempts.
With a knick knack paddy whack (perhaps), Beasley clanged the first free throw, gazed up at the basket and then took a step toward it, much like the procedure he used to check out what he referred to as “gremlins” on the rim in a previous game.