Western Conference counterparts jockeying for playoff positioning meet Friday in Sacramento when the host Kings look to pull out of a losing skid against an injury-plagued Phoenix Suns team.
Sacramento (43-29) sits two games behind Memphis for second in the West after dropping back-to-back decisions to the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics. The 128-120 loss Monday in Utah denied the Kings a perfect 4-0 road trip after beating Chicago, Brooklyn and Washington in succession.
Sacramento was a winner in six of seven games before its current dip, which extended to two games upon the Kings’ return home on Tuesday.
No King scored more than De’Aaron Fox’s 18 points, while Sacramento surrendered 36, 27 and 20 points on the other end to Boston’s trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Derrick White in the 132-109 loss.
“It’s not the outcome we want, but we showed in the first half we can compete,” said Domantas Sabonis in Tuesday’s postgame press conference. “There’s moments in the game where we make a run. But definitely, there’s a lot to improve. We have two days now to get some rest, watch film and try and work on these things we struggle with against these top teams.”
Phoenix (38-34) coming to town pits Sacramento against teams that reached the last two NBA Finals in back-to-back outings. The Suns made moves before the trade deadline to contend for another Western Conference championship, acquiring Kevin Durant from Brooklyn.
Durant made his Suns debut on March 1, and by his third game he scored 37 points in a win over Dallas. But an ankle injury sustained in pregame warmups March 8 has sidelined Durant for the past seven games, including Wednesday’s 122-111 loss in Los Angeles to the Lakers.
Phoenix fell to 2-5 since Durant’s injury with the defeat. The Suns hold a tenuous, half-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers for the fourth spot in the West through games played Wednesday, and they trail Sacramento by five games for third place.
Just two games separate Phoenix and Minnesota. The Timberwolves occupy the seventh seed in the conference, the last place out of a guaranteed berth in the Playoffs without having to navigate the play-in round.
The Suns’ current spell of five losses in six games began March 11 against Sacramento. The Kings won in Phoenix, 128-119, with seven players scoring at least 12 points and the bench combining for 65 points.
Meanwhile, Deandre Ayton — who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds in the loss — has missed Phoenix’s last two games with a hip injury.
With two key players out of the lineup, the Suns head into Sacramento looking both to avoid a further slide, and to get to the free-throw line more often. There was a 46-20 foul-shot disparity Wednesday against the Lakers.
“We’re attacking the rim, I’m getting explanations that we’re taking too many mid-range jump shots. We’re playing a physical game,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said in his postgame press conference. “It’s happening to us too much.”
Phoenix has attempted fewer free throws in every game since March 3,. The time the Suns shot more from the charity stripe than an opponent was Feb. 26.