Sandblasted in Phoenix
Kings suffer fourth consecutive loss as Suns zoom past them
By Sam Amick - Bee Staff Writer
Last Updated 6:22 am PST Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Story appeared in SPORTS section, Page C4
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PHOENIX -- The Jeff Gordon pace, believe it or not, did slow at one point.
During halftime of Tuesday night's game at US Airways Raceway, an Elvis impersonator was the only act on the floor, his hips moving and fake sideburns bouncing to all "The King's" oldies.
But by the time Phoenix was nearly done shaking up the basketball Kings in a 127-102 rout, the man at halfcourt was Suns owner Robert Sarver, pumping his Styrofoam fist with the index finger touting No. 1.
The Suns did indeed look like one of the best in the West. They won their seventh consecutive game, jumping out to a 10-point lead just minutes into play and pushing the pace toward the end to give the Kings their fourth successive loss and drop them below .500 (8-9) for the first time since they were 1-2.
Point guard Steve Nash had an NBA season-high 20 assists, guard Leandro Barbosa had 26 points that nearly all came on blurry fast-break layups, forward Shawn Marion had 23 points, and the Suns had far too much rev in their engine for the Kings to keep up.
The absence of small forward Ron Artest certainly didn't help the Kings. He missed his third consecutive game because of lower back pain.
"That was ugly," Kings swingman John Salmons said. "We're either going to be a good team or a terrible team. We can't keep coming close and not winning, or just getting blown out. We've got to find a way to get over the hump."
This one, though, was a desert mountain.
Kings coach Eric Musselman tried for a preemptive strike, going with a small starting lineup to try to keep pace with the running Suns. He said the move was inspired by losses at Golden State and Dallas in which the Kings dug a first-quarter hole they couldn't get out of. The unintended result, however, was the undersized Kings catching up just in time to watch the Suns pound them down low.
With the unit of Ronnie Price, Mike Bibby, Salmons, Kevin Martin and Kenny Thomas on the floor, the method didn't matter. The first basket was a ferocious dunk by Suns center Amare Stoudemire, who went up and over Thomas for the score. Then it was a Marion layup on the run, followed by a Boris Diaw dunk with Martin below. By the time Musselman came with the tall timber -- inserting center Brad Miller with 7:53 remaining in the first quarter -- the Suns led 14-4.
That Phoenix hit 18 of 26 shots in the first quarter to lead 41-29 was nothing new. In the previous five games, the Suns had shot an average of 66.1 percent in the opening quarter, outscoring their opponents 206-161 in that span. Phoenix had 10 of its 27 fast-break points in the first quarter.
"The priority was to stop them in transition in the first quarter, and obviously, we didn't do that," Musselman said. "(Going small) didn't help, obviously. We were still outquicked when we went small."
Phoenix led 62-51 at halftime after a bigger second-quarter unit that featured Jason Hart at the point and Bibby playing shooting guard held the Suns to 21 points in the period.
In addition to Elvis and Sarver, Suns reserve Pat Burke took the stage. The little-used forward, who is known for his comic relief among the fans, hit three three-pointers in the final 1:24, pushing the lead to 25 points while hamming it up for the crowd.
Musselman wasn't amused, hollering toward the Phoenix bench to "keep putting up threes." Six of the Suns' last eight attempts were three-pointers.
Asked about the late barrage, Musselman said, "Again, we'll give them credit for the game."
Suns coach Mike D'Antoni pleaded innocence in the matter.
"What am I supposed to do, tell them to miss?" he asked.
About the writer:
The Bee's Sam Amick can be reached at email@example.com