By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO — The Suns have come down to earth. And the Kings–playing more deliberate while applying the D–are ascending.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored a career-best 31 points and the Kings survived a furious, fourth quarter rally from the Suns in a 120-116 victory on Tuesday.
After an 0-5 start–including an embarrasing 29-point loss in Phoenix on opening night–the Kings have won six of eight, and their goal of ending the NBA’s longest playoff drought is back on the table.
With the Warriors, Thunder, Blazers and Spurs in various states of disrepair, Western Conference playoff spots are up for grabs. Phoenix (last appearance: 2010) and Sacramento (2006) own the lengthiest postseason absences along with the most promise for putting an end to the droughts this season.
The Suns started the season fast with five wins and two one-point losses under the direction of new coach Monty Williams. But DeAndre Ayton’s suspension and some difficult opponents have slowed their momentum. Meanwhile, the Kings have turned it around with defense, and relying on their depth under the tutelage of Luke Walton.
Bogdanovic, getting increased playing time in place of injured point guard De’Aaron Fox, got hot in the second quarter, scoring 18 points as the Kings’ lead swelled to 26. But Phoenix finally responded in a 41-point, fourth quarter that pulled them within 116-113 with 14.2 seconds remaining.
Richaun Holmes and Yogi Ferrell both made a pair of free throws in the final seconds to keep the Kings from an embarrassing outcome.
“It felt like to me that we started to stat-hunt a little bit,” Walton said of the near collapse. “When we continued to run our plays we got wide open everything. When we got stagnant their zone stopped us.”
The Kings limited Phoenix to 26 percent shooting in the first quarter, and the possibility of them holding a fourth, consecutive opponent to less than 100 points seemed doable. They also blocked seven shots, and had seven steals, but this was an important ballgame for both clubs. The Suns’ furious rally, and offensive emergence confirmed that.
“We changed up our defenses a little bit but they hit tough shots after tough shots,” Williams said. “But I just loved the fight of our team.”
“We kind of were ‘OK, we got it,'” Bogdanovich said. “It’s the NBA. You have to be ready to lock in and finish the game.”
Holmes finished with 20 points and a career-best 15 rebounds. Bodganovich hit 7 3-pointers for the first time in his career, but missed the final minutes with a hamstring issue. Cory Joseph dished out 14 assists, also a career-high.
Phoenix’s Aaron Baynes, the journeyman center turned 3-point sensation missed the game with a hip injury. Ricky Rubio was available after missing the previous night’s game in Phoenix against Boston, but couldn’t provide much help. Rubio played just 18 minutes and missed all seven of his shots from the floor.
Devin Booker started slow, drew a technical foul, but finished fast with 30 points to lead the Suns. Kelly Oubre and Mikal Bridges had 20 points each.