The Kings are back home after a 1-2 road trip to face the Western Conference leading Phoenix Suns. Phoenix sits atop the West standings at 13-6, meaning the Kings schedule does not get any easier after taking on the league leading Celtics. Sacramento has done a great job protecting their home court this year though, sitting at 6-3 after 9 home games, and Phoenix has been remarkably better at home where they’ve gone 11-1, than on the road at just 2-5.
The Kings are in the midst of a team wide slump from beyond the arc, going 33-of-111 (29.7%) from deep over their last 3 games, compared to 38.0% over their first 15 games. The thing that has stood out to me over the last 2 games especially is that it doesn’t seem like the Kings are getting as many good looks from 3 like they were previously. The numbers back it up. In their first 16 games, the Kings were averaging 21.1 Wide-Open 3’s per game. In their last 2 games, they averaged 16.0 Wide-Open 3’s.
It’s just 2 games, so not something to worry about yet, but something to note and keep an eye on. It seemed like the Kings have had more rushed shots the last few games. What helped them obtain the league’s highest ranked offense was their passing, patience, and ability to wait for the best shot. They’ll need to get back to that habit quickly to reclaim the top ranked offense and get back in the win column.
From the Suns’ front, they are getting it done with a balanced approach on both offense and defense. They have the 3rd ranked offense, 5th ranked defense, and 2nd best Net Rating in the NBA. They are once again being led by Devin Booker, who is averaging a career high 27.1 Points per game on 46.1/36.1/87.1% shooting splits. Maybe more importantly for the Suns though, Mikal Bridges has had a breakout year. His 16.2 Points, 5.2 Rebounds, 3.3 Assists, 46.9% 3P%, and 88.9% FT% are all career highs. He’s done all of this while maintaining his impressive defense, holding opponents 2.9% under their season FG%.
Something that’s really helped the Suns this year is that they take very good care of the ball. They only turn it over 13.2 times per game, 26th in the NBA, and allow 14.6 Points off of their Turnovers, least in the league. On the other side, they take advantage of the Turnovers that they do force, scoring 19.7 Points off of their opponents Turnovers, 4th most. The Kings have had 57 Turnovers in their last 3 games. Against a team that takes care of the ball like the Suns, they’ll have to make a quick turnaround on the turnovers and take care of the ball tonight.
Against the Celtics, we saw the return of KZ Okpala for his first extended minutes since he was in the starting lineup at the start of the season. He played more minutes last game, 20:43, than he did the previous 15 games combined, 18:46. He brought defensive intensity that seemed to help turn the game around in the 2nd quarter against the Celtics, and was able to provide some scoring on offense. He went 3-of-5 (60%) from the field and 1-of-2 (50%) from deep en route to 7 Points. It may not seem like much, but if he can provide somewhere between 6 or 10 Points with the type of defense he plays, he would be a huge boon for the team still searching for their identity on defense. Going against a scorer like Booker, one of the best bucket getters in the league, the extra length that Okpala provides could be a crucial asset for the Kings tonight.
Something that the Kings should take advantage of against Phoenix is their ability to get to the Free Throw line. They continue to be one of the best teams in the NBA at getting freebies, averaging 25.1 per game, 6th most in the league. The Suns are 27th with 20.9 Free Throws a night, and they also allow the 9th most, as their opponents average 24.4. I’m going to make the Free Throw battle my swing stat of the game. Last game, we saw the Kings commit the aforementioned Turnovers to the Celtics team that came into the game averaging the least number of Steals and Opponent Turnovers per game. The Kings can’t win if they allow opponents to excel in areas of weakness, making the Free Throw battle extra important tonight. A 4.2 Free Throw attempt advantage may not seem like much, but for the Kings to win against the best of the best, they have to take advantage of every little thing they can.