Suns-Kings Preview

The Phoenix Suns’ playoff hopes are getting slimmer as they

continue to fade in the Western Conference.

The Sacramento Kings will miss out on the postseason for the

fifth year in a row, but find themselves in the midst of a

season-best winning streak.

Phoenix hopes to avoid a fourth loss in five games while host

Sacramento tries for a fourth consecutive win overall and third

straight in the series when the teams meet Tuesday night.

The Suns’ postseason chances took a major hit Sunday as they

fell for the seventh time in 10 games, losing 91-83 to Dallas.

That defeat, along with a Memphis victory, dropped 10th-place

Phoenix (36-36) four games back of the Grizzlies for the eighth and

final playoff spot in the West.

The Suns, who rank fourth in the league with 105.0 points per

game, have scored 100 or fewer in six of their last 10 games,

losing all six and falling to 5-21 in such situations this

season.

Steve Nash, averaging 15.5 points, continues to play at less

than 100 percent and has scored a total of nine points on 4-of-20

shooting in his last two contests.

“I am having a hard time getting the ball in the basket right

now. It has been a tough year,” said Nash, averaging 23.3 points

and 14.6 assists in three meetings with the Kings in 2010-11. “We

are facing some pains right now because of the mountain we had to

climb all year. I think we have to play with class and dignity and

go on fighting every night.”

Center Marcin Gortat – averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds

in his last six games – and swingman Jared Dudley started in place

of Robin Lopez and Vince Carter on Sunday. Gortat and Dudley

combined for 40 points and 20 rebounds.

Despite Nash’s impressive numbers against Sacramento (20-52),

Phoenix has lost back-to-back games to the Kings, partly due to

getting outrebounded by an average of 21.5. The Suns had taken 17

of the previous 19 matchups in the series.

After winning four of their previous 22 games overall, the Kings

went 4-1 on their recently completed road trip – including Sunday’s

114-111 overtime win over Philadelphia, their third consecutive

victory.

“We know our record is not very good. We always felt we had a

good team,” coach Paul Westphal told NBA.com. “We’re learning.

We’re becoming a good defensive team and we’re sorting things

out.”

Guard Marcus Thornton, averaging 22.0 points since joining

Sacramento from New Orleans prior to the trade deadline, scored 32

on Sunday and was one of seven Kings to reach double figures.

Sacramento trailed by as many as 12 points but outrebounded the

76ers by 22 and recorded its first OT win in six tries.

“Our team has a tendency to hang our heads and not bounce back

from those kinds of things,” Westphal said. “We haven’t been a good

closing team for most of the year, but lately, we’ve improved in

that area, too.”

Center Samuel Dalembert had his third straight double-double

with 13 points and a season-best 19 rebounds. Tyreke Evans scored

10 points off the bench in his second game back since missing 19

with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

Thornton averaged 20.5 points – 7.3 more than his career mark –

in his last four games against the Suns while with the Hornets. He

had 10 points and 10 rebounds Jan. 30 at Phoenix for his only

career double-double.