Kings hope to protect their home versus Suns

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento Kings learned enough about themselves this season to know that it doesn’t matter whether they are settling in for a lengthy stay at home or grinding through a long trek on the road.

Without protecting the ball a lot better, they will struggle to win.

Sacramento kicks off a month-long stay in their home state Friday when they host the ever-dimming Phoenix Suns at Golden 1 Center. The contest marks the first for the Kings in their own digs since a season-long eight-game road trip that lasted 12 days.

The Kings (19-30) won three times during the jaunt. With a bit better ball protection, it could’ve been more. Without it, they don’t figure to improve much on an 8-13 home mark during a stretch that sees them play 11 of their next 13 at home.

The only exceptions are road games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and in Oakland against the Warriors on back-to-back nights. Before those come six games straight in a place where Sacramento went 1-6 in its last go-around.

“I think we progressed as a team,” Kings center DeMarcus Cousins told reporters of the road trip. “A lot of things didn’t go our way, but through it, I think we got better as a team.”

The Kings turned over the ball only 11 times in a 105-83 loss at Houston on Tuesday but averaged 14 turnovers during the trip, and twice had at least 20. They average 13.8 per game — 20th-worst in the 30-team league.

“A lot of them can be eliminated,” Kings forward Anthony Tolliver told reporters after Sacramento’s loss in Philadelphia on Monday, a game that saw Sacramento commit 23. “Some of them are gonna happen here or there, because you’re being aggressive, attacking the basket. What we have to eliminate are the one that are just miscommunication or where you just kind of flick it out of bounds.”

The constant flux of changing rotations hasn’t helped the Kings, and now their depth will be challenged even more. Guard Garrett Temple will miss three weeks after partially tearing his left hamstring against Houston and will not play for at least two weeks. He won’t be evaluated again until after the All-Star break.

The Kings already were without forward Rudy Gay, lost for the season to a right Achilles’ tendon injury Jan. 18. The Kings haven’t played a home game without him.

The Suns (15-34) may consider scoring the game’s first point progress. They have lost five straight, their longest skid since a seven-game losing streak last March. They haven’t led in either of their previous two losses, the most recent a 124-114 setback against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

The Suns don’t have too many issues offensively. Phoenix averages 106.5 points per contest, 11th in the NBA, and topped 100 in 13 of their past 14 contests.

“We are scoring at will,” guard Devin Booker told the Arizona Republic after the loss to the Clippers. “But we couldn’t get enough stops.”

That struggle has been an issue all season. Only the Brooklyn Nets give up more points than Suns, who are allowing 112.3 this season. They’ve allowed 120 in three of their past four losses, and surrendered at least 100 in 12 straight contests.

The Suns should present a problem with their backcourt tandem because Sacramento struggles to guard the perimeter. Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe scored at least 40 points in three of his past six games, and Booker scored at least 20 in 14 straight.