Bottom feeders in the Pacific Division meet for the second time this season Wednesday night as the last-place Phoenix Suns pay a visit to the Sacramento Kings.
The well-rested Suns will have a new look on the bench with former NBA player Lindsey Hunter handling interim coaching duties. Hunter, who was the team's head of player development and won two NBA titles, takes over for Alvin Gentry after he guided the Suns to a 13-28 record. Suns assistant coaches Elston Turner and Igor Kokoskov were also considered for the job.
"He was the right guy to give us a jolt," Suns general manager Lance Blanks said. "Certainly there were other qualified and safe candidates you could really make a case for. We felt that Lindsey would give us the type of leadership that we wanted.
"We felt like the things that we heard from the players in terms of accountability and things that they felt they needed, he fit well with that. And we felt like we could partner with him."
Hunter certainly has the pedigree to run an NBA team, having learned under the likes of Larry Brown, Doug Collins and Phil Jackson. Hunter said he is a defensive guy and wants the Suns "to be a tough, nasty, defensive-minded team." Hunter will take over a Phoenix squad that is near the bottom in defense and allows 99.7 ppg.
Phoenix has just two wins in its last 15 games and suffered a rare 98-84 loss versus the Milwaukee Bucks last Thursday. Shannon Brown paced Phoenix with 20 points off the bench and Luis Scola chipped in 16 and eight rebounds for the Suns, who had won 24 straight over the Bucks at home.
"You have to be able to make plays down the stretch to win games, especially close games. They made them, and we did not," Gentry said after the Suns squandered a double-digit lead in the second half and scored only 38 points over the final 24 minutes.
Jared Dudley posted 13 points in a losing effort. Scola is averaging 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds in his last 11 games.
The Suns are in the midst of playing 14 of 20 games outside the desert and sport a lowly 3-17 ledger away from home. On a brighter note, the Suns can win back-to-back road games for the first time this season Wednesday. They defeated Chicago on Jan. 12 at the United Center.
Sacramento is back in California's capital city and went 1-2 on a three-game road swing through Memphis, Charlotte and New Orleans. The southern junket came to a close with Monday's 114-105 setback to the Hornets as DeMarcus Cousins did his part in defeat with a game-high 29 points and 13 rebounds.
Isaiah Thomas contributed 20 points, while Tyreke Evans finished with 16 points and four assists for the Kings, who had won three of four games and almost rallied from a 64-39 halftime deficit.
"I was proud of the way the guys came back in the third quarter," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "It would have been easy for them to pack it in, but they came out and made a game of it."
Cousins has been doing his part in trying to keep the Kings on the right path and has posted five straight double-doubles. Cousins is averaging 20.7 points and 12.2 rebounds in his last 14 games. He and Warriors big man David Lee are the only players in the league to average at least 18.0 ppg and 10.0 rpg this season.
Since returning on a consistent basis because of a balky knee, Evans has averages of 14.0 points and 4.9 rebounds in the previous eight contests for a Kings squad rumored to be moving to Seattle.
According to several reports on Sunday, the Maloof brothers, principal owners of the Kings, reached an agreement with a group headed by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer to move the franchise to the Pacific Northwest. This reported deal would mean the Kings would relocate to Seattle, possibly as early as next season.
The Kings will coincidentally host Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder on the brief homestand and have a 12-10 record at Sleep Train Arena. The Thunder were formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics.
Sacramento suffered a 101-90 loss at Phoenix on Dec. 17 and is only 4-16 in the past 20 meetings between the Pacific inhabitants.