Preview: Suns at Kings, 7 p.m., FOX Sports Arizona
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In their best-case scenario, the Sacramento Kings held out hope that they wouldn’t be concluding their first season at the new Golden 1 Center quite so early.
But even though Sacramento must slog through the aftermath of an 11th straight season that ends on the assigned date, the organization seems optimistic about what’s ahead.
That attitude might not be entirely new, but the dynamic with which that optimism is based certainly is.
In that sense, Sacramento has much in common with the Phoenix Suns, the team they will wrap up their home season against on Tuesday night.
Phoenix won’t play in the playoffs either, for the seventh season in a row, but they, too, see light at what’s been an unendingly long tunnel.
The Kings (31-49) took a new direction with their All-Star break trade of forward DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans, essentially handing the team a younger cast of characters, and most figure to get a lot of minutes against Phoenix.
The biggest bright spot might be the play of forward Skal Labissiere, Phoenix’s No. 1 pick in last June’s draft (No. 28 overall), whom the Suns traded along with Georgios Papagiannis for Marquese Chriss.
Labissiere scored 25 points and grabbed six rebounds in Sacramento’s 135-128 loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday, his second-highest output of his rookie campaign. He’s also played at least 30 minutes in five of his past six games, a span in which he’s averaged 13.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.
His defense remains a work in progress.
“It’s just learning how to adjust,” Labissiere said after the loss to the Rockets. “You play different guys in the league. Guys in the NBA are talented, so you’ve just to figure out how to guard people, make it hard for them at least.”
Labissiere isn’t the only rookie getting a long look.
The Kings targeted guard Buddy Hield in the Cousins trade, and the rookie from Oklahoma has averaged 14.4 points while canning 42 percent of his 3-pointers in 23 games since his arrival.
Hield has been prone to streakiness, and after making 21 of 43 shots in a three-game stretch before Sunday, he made only 4 of 16 shots against the Rockets.
Papagiannis has played in six straight games and 14 of the last 15 for Sacramento after appearing only six times in the season’s first 52 contests. He has reached double digits in scoring in four of his past seven and also pulled 10 rebounds in a loss at the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
The Suns (24-57) also have done some heavy evaluating as they wrap up the second straight 50-plus loss campaign, but they’ve discovered some things, too.
For one, they believe they can pencil in guard Devin Booker for stardom. The 20-year-old second-year guard, who scored 70 points at Boston on March 24, hasn’t been held below 20 in his last 10 games and is averaging 23.3 points in three previous games against Sacramento.
“What’s his full potential?” Suns veteran Jared Dudley asked the Arizona Republic. “I don’t think we even know.”
The Suns also see potential in Chriss, who average 13.8 points in March but has fallen off in April with only 30 points in his last four games.
The game will mark the end of Phoenix’s 49th season. The Kings will wrap up their 31st season in Sacramento on Wednesday night at the Los Angeles Clippers.