PHOENIX (AP) DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings are trying to finish strong and set the tone for next season.
DeMarcus Cousins scored 24 points, all but four coming in the first three quarters, and grabbed 11 rebounds to help the Kings beat the Phoenix Suns 108-99 on Thursday night.
”We can build confidence, which definitely is something this team needs,” Cousins said. ”We took a lot of hits through the season. This is going to be a positive point for us. It’s like training camp for us, except we started early.”
Cousins also had three assists, two steals and a block, and Rudy Gay scored 14 points for the Kings, who have won four straight.
”I’ve had coaches tell me that the teams that win games have the most-easy baskets and we got a lot of easy baskets tonight,” Kings coach George Karl said.
Karl, hired last month during the All-Star break, said his players have been learning his system on the fly the past six weeks.
”A lot of that stuff comes in practice and there’s no practice time,” Karl said. ”There’s no time for them to understand philosophically what I want and what they should be giving.”
Markieff Morris scored 24 points, and Eric Bledsoe and Marcus Morris added 19 each for the Suns, who had their four-game winning streak snapped.
”It was a tough loss, but at the end of the day, we’re right there,” Bledsoe said. ”We still have a couple of games left that are winnable games.”
Phoenix squandered an opportunity to make up a game on eighth-place Oklahoma City in the Western Conference. The Thunder were routed 130-91 earlier Thursday at San Antonio. Phoenix trails Oklahoma City by three games for the West’s final playoff spot.
”The disappointing thing about tonight is we knew the results already before the game even started, so we knew we had an opportunity to get real close,” Suns center Brandan Wright said.
Markieff Morris pulled the Suns within four points at 72-68 with 4:14 left in the third quarter. But Ray McCallum hit a 14-foot jumper, Derrick Williams scored on an alley-oop pass from Gay and Cousins added a dunk to spark an 11-2 run to end the third period that put Sacramento ahead 83-70.
Archie Goodwin and Wright each scored in the first 69 seconds of the fourth quarter to cut the Kings’ lead to nine. But Omri Casspi hit a layup with a finger-roll and Williams converted another alley-oop pass to give the Kings an 87-74 lead with 8:42 left.
”I thought that when we got down 13, it seemed like we got wound up,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. ”There were still eight or nine minutes to go in the game. There’s plenty of time.”
Phoenix made a final run, with Marcus Morris scoring five straight points to pull the Suns within five at 92-87. Ben McLemore, though, answered with a 3-pointer with 4:12 left and added another 87 seconds later and Sacramento led 98-89.
Kings: Rudy Gay picked up two fouls in the first 8:04 of the first quarter and spent the rest of the period on the bench. Gay was called for his third foul 2:05 into the second, but remained in the game. … Sacramento won three of four against the Suns this season, including both in Phoenix for the first time since 1998-99. The Kings entered the season with only three wins in Phoenix since the 2005-06 season. Sacramento had not won the season series since 2010-11. … Each of the Kings’ three wins over Phoenix this season came with a different head coach – Mike Malone, Tyrone Corbin and now George Karl. ”That’s crazy,” Cousins said.
Suns: Phoenix was without starting guard Brandon Knight, who was a game-time scratch with a sprained left ankle. … Gerald Green, who had played 17 minutes in Phoenix’s past five games, including three games spent on the bench, appeared in the fourth and scored four straight points on his first two shots. But then he committed his second and third fouls and missed three straight shots, including a pair of 3-pointers. … Bledsoe, who entered averaging six assists a game, recorded only one after spending the game fighting off a stomach bug. ”I’m feeling a little weak right now, but when you step on the court there are no excuses,” Bledsoe said. … Archie Goodwin finished with a season-high 15 points in a season-high 26 minutes.
Hornacek needed just 53 seconds to pick up his first technical since Nov. 30 after both Morris brothers, Markieff and Marcus, were whistled for fouls. Hornacek walked to the far edge of the coaches box yelling at Bennie Adams who, after listening and watching over his right shoulder, casually called the technical. Markieff Morris earned a technical of his own after being called for a foul with 0.4 seconds left in the first quarter. Morris’ 14th technical tied Russell Westbrook for the league lead and left him two T’s away from an automatic one-game suspension.