The Phoenix Suns blew out two of the NBA’s best teams to end 2009, but began the new year with a lopsided loss to one of the Western Conference’s up-and-coming clubs.
The young Sacramento Kings have shown plenty of promise as well, but they have had trouble pulling out close wins.
Phoenix (21-13) was 5-9 following its 14-4 start heading into a Dec. 28 matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, but rolled over the defending champions 118-103 behind 26 points from Amare Stoudemire.
Stoudemire posted the same total in a 116-98 win over Boston two nights later, but the momentum generated by those victories disappeared when the Suns hosted Memphis on Saturday. Stoudemire had 29 points but Phoenix fell behind by 36 in a 128-103 loss to the Grizzlies.
“The Lakers and Celtics are bonuses,” Nash said. “The key thing is to beat the teams below you in the standings. These losses hurt, especially the way we played tonight.”
Sacramento (14-19) is 6 1/2 games behind the Suns in the Pacific Division and out of playoff position, but it has played some postseason contenders tough recently.
With the exception of a 106-101 win over Denver on Dec. 28, though, the Kings have been unable to pull out victories. Sacramento has dropped five of six, including an overtime loss to Cleveland and two devastating defeats against the Lakers - 112-103 in double overtime at home Dec. 26 and 109-108 at Staples Center on Friday on a Kobe Bryant(notes) buzzer-beater.
The Kings nearly beat the Lakers the second time without Evans, who missed a third consecutive game with a sprained right ankle. The star rookie returned Saturday at home against Dallas.
“We can learn. We’ve got to learn how to play with fatigue - that’s a part of this league,” coach Paul Westphal said. “You’ve got to play when you’re tired, you’ve got to play when things aren’t going your way and you’ve got to play against really good teams.”
“I knew I wasn’t going to come back and play at my same pace,” Evans said. “Hopefully the next game I can be more effective and get the rust off.”
Evans had 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds at Phoenix on Dec. 5, but Nash scored 32 points in the Suns’ 115-107 win.
Nash averaged 30.7 points and 9.3 assists in his last three games versus Sacramento. Phoenix won eight of the last nine in the series, but fell 126-118 at Arco Arena on March 29 as six Kings scored at least 16 points.