April 15, 2014

DeMarcus Cousins missed out on facing a fellow Kentucky-bred big man, and it's unclear if he'll get a chance against another top rookie from the same program.

The Sacramento Kings are being careful with their best player as their postseason hopes disintegrate, and Friday night's visit from the Phoenix Suns is no different.

There was a big hole in the paint for Sacramento (27-44) when it closed a 1-3 trip with Wednesday's 113-104 defeat at Minnesota that was its fourth loss in five games.

Rajon Rondo finished with 25 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, and Kosta Koufos posted 15 points and 15 boards, but the paint was owned by the Timberwolves.

Former Wildcats star Karl-Anthony Towns made 11 of 17 shots for 26 points and 11 rebounds after Cousins, who played with Kentucky in 2009-10, was scratched earlier in the day due to a bruised right knee.

Minnesota matched a season high for a Kings opponent with 64 points in the paint, and Sacramento went 12 of 23 from the free throw line with 17 turnovers. The Kings trailed by two at halftime but were outscored 34-24 in the third quarter.

"In the third quarter, we just didn't have any presence," coach George Karl said. "It felt like they scored about every possession on the offensive court."

The Kings are riding a 3-13 slump and play their next two at Sleep Train Arena hoping to snap a seven-game skid there.

Through a sixth straight losing season to open his career, Cousins has solidified himself as one of the league's most productive big men with averages of 27.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.5 steals.

Still, the Kings are on their way to missing the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year, short of only Minnesota's current drought of 12. Phoenix (20-51) has long been guaranteed its sixth straight season watching the playoffs from home, which would be the third longest if Detroit clinches an Eastern Conference spot.

Scoring hasn't been an issue for Sacramento, which ranks third in the league with 106.4 points per game. That showed in the last series matchup as the Kings rolled to a 142-119 home win Jan. 2 that marked the most points scored in a non-overtime game over the last two seasons. Cousins had 32 points and nine rebounds, Rondo had 15 points and 15 assists, and Sacramento shot a season-high 60.9 percent.

The contrast with and without Cousins was evident for the Kings, who rebounded from a 118-97 loss in Phoenix on Nov. 4 when he sat with a strained right Achilles.

The Suns have floated around the bottom of the league all season but are playing better basketball during a 6-7 stretch. Wednesday's 119-107 win over the Los Angeles Lakers was their third in five games and seventh road victory of the season.

"We're in a process of building," interim coach Earl Watson said. "We have a chance to go 7-7 next game."

Devin Booker, another former Wildcat, has been a big part of the spurt by averaging 21.4 points and 4.9 rebounds over the last 13 games.

The 19-year-old rookie made 12 of 22 shots for 28 points against the Lakers, and Jon Leuer had a season-high 22 points and career-high 14 rebounds.

Leuer started in place of Tyson Chandler, who sat out with back spasms. It is unclear if Chandler will be ready for Friday.

You May Like