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Suns Strokes: Phoenix takes advantage of Cousins-less Kings

PHOENIX — These are the games the Phoenix Suns can’t afford to lose, not if they have thoughts of ending a five-year playoff drought.

They are the games against inferior opponents.

They are the games against MIA-superstar opponents.

The Sacramento Kings checked both boxes Wednesday night, and the Suns checked themselves a 118-97 win in front of 16,497 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Six Suns players scored in double figures, including Eric Bledsoe (19), Brandon Knight (17), Alex Len (16), T.J. Warren (13), Markieff Morris (11) and P.J. Tucker (10).

Bledsoe set the tone early, penetrating a Kings defense that was minus big man DeMarcus Cousins, who missed his second straight game due to a right Achilles strain.

The Suns (3-2) never trailed and put the game away with a 69-point second half on 60-percent shooting.

For the game, the Suns set season shooting-highs from both the field (54.2 percent; 45-of-83) and the 3-point line (60.9 percent; 14-of-23).

Nine of those 3s came in the second half with Knight hitting three and Tucker and Ronnie Price each adding two.

Playing the second game of a back-to-back, the Kings (1-3) were led by Kosta Koufos’ 16 points.

THE GOOD

– Great start by Bledsoe. He accounted for 16 of the Suns’ 28 first-quarter points with four field goals, including a pair of 3s, and three assists. Bledsoe, the team’s leading scorer, finished the quarter with 10 points, two rebounds, three assists, three steals and one blocked shot to help the Suns jump out to a 28-18 lead after the first 12 minutes of action. Bledsoe ended the game with his second four-steal effort.

– Not only was Devin Booker active but the rookie played, checking into the game at 8:51 of the second quarter. He promptly hit his first shot attempt, a 3, to give the Suns a 37-25 lead, matching their largest advantage of the first half. Booker was inactive Monday at the Clippers after spraining his left ankle during an off-day individual workout the day before. Booker finished with five points in six minutes.

– Beginning with a Knight 3 and ending with a Knight lay-up, the Suns scored 11 straight points, part of a much larger 16-2 third-quarter run to give them, at that moment, their largest lead of the game, 71-57, at the 3:55 mark. Knight finished the quarter with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting. P.J. Tucker added seven points, including two of his own 3s. Tucker also hit a 3 at the first-half buzzer, which at the time was only his second made 3-pointer of the year.

– It was Len’s turn in the fourth quarter. He scored a team-high 14 with six unanswered points—on three dunks—early in the quarter; and then seven straight points midway through the action. Len made jump shots from 18- and nine-feet before an and-1 put-back layup. The free throw was good to give the Suns their largest lead of the game, 105-84, with 4:57 remaining. Len also added five rebounds and finished with a season-high-tying eight.

– Following his 17-rebound performance at the Clippers, Tyson Chandler finished with 11 boards, eight on the defensive end. This is the fourth straight game that Chandler has reached that mark, the most consecutive with at least 11 by a Suns player since Marcin Gortat (four straight) in April 2012. Chandler’s 58 total rebounds are a team-high, while the team’s total (252) through five games is their most since 1991-92.

THE BAD

– Though he assisted on two made field goals, Knight missed all three of his field goal attempts in the first quarter, including his lone 3-point attempt. Just two nights earlier at the Clippers, Knight shot 4-of-20 in 41 minutes with seven of those misfires coming from beyond the arc, where he began the day shooting 30.8 percent on the season.

– It was a sloppy second quarter for the Suns, who turned the ball over eight times, including three times in a five-possession stretch that saw the Kings pull to within five thanks to a 9-2 run, 39-34 with 3:09 to play. The Suns found putting the ball in the basket difficult, too. They made only six field goals, three in the last seven minutes.

– After three straight turnovers to open the second half, the Kings went six consecutive possessions with a made field goal. James Anderson (1-of-8 FG in first half) hit three 3s during the 15-6 run to tie the game at 55 at 7:43 of the third quarter. In the midst of this stretch, the Suns had more turnovers (three) then field goals (two).

– Despite no Cousins, the Kings held a 24-12 points in the paint advantage in the first half, making 12 of 27 shot attempts. They finished with a 42-38 edge in that category, marking the third time in four games that the Suns have allowed better than 40 points in the paint to an opponent.

STAT OF THE GAME

28-16: The Suns’ advantage in points off turnovers even though they turned the ball over one more time (20-19) than the Kings

HE SAID IT

“Bled was great in the beginning of the game, then Brandon was great that one stretch in the third quarter, then Alex had that really good stretch. P.J. had a good stretch,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We had good contributions from a lot of guys tonight, which we need.”

NOTED

– The Suns improved to 3-0 when the Bledsoe-Knight backcourt duo combine for at least 36 points.

– The Suns improved to 3-2 for the third straight year, or each season of Hornacek’s three seasons as head coach.

– The Suns improved to 15-0 when shooting 50 percent or better from the 3-point line under Hornacek.

– The Suns improved to 39-3 when shooting 50 percent or better from the field since the start of 2013-14.

– A 21-point victory is the Suns’ largest against the Kings since April 3, 2009 in Phoenix (28 points, 139-111).

– Former Arizona State Sun Devils assistant coach Larry Greer is now a scout for the Thunder.

UP NEXT

The mini two-game homestand ends with a visit from Eastern Conference Player of the Week Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Suns and Pistons split the season series 1-1 last season with each road team winning a game by two points.

In the last matchup between the clubs on Dec. 12, 2014, Morris had 17 points, eight rebounds and two steals; Tucker added 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals; but the Pistons would go on to win, 105-103, after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 3-pointer with 1:13 to play broke a 97-97 tie.

Drummond led the Pistons with 23 points and 14 rebounds.

Overall, the Suns have won nine of the last 13 meetings, including five of six at home.

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