SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Early in the second quarter, with his team already staring down a 13-point deficit against the crippled but motivated Sacramento Kings, Suns coach Mike D'Antoni marched into the Phoenix huddle shot a look into the eyes of his players and asked — OK, screamed — the $64,000 question.
"Is anyone going to play tonight?" D'Antoni inquired.
He looked each Sun in the eye. But as with just about everything else
Tuesday, there was no response. For the first time all season, there was no fire, no rally, no run. There were just missed shots, missed defensive assignments and, as a result, a game that D'Antoni said "needs to be flushed down the toilet."
Without three injured starters, the Kings rolled up 65 first-half points, beat the Suns from beginning to end and handed Phoenix its worst defeat of the season by a wide margin, rolling to a 119-90 win before the 291st straight sellout at Arco Arena.
This is never a good place for the Suns, who have lost nine of their last 10 trips here. But with starters Peja Stojakovic, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Bonzi Wells all out of the lineup, 16-21 Sacramento was missing 38 points of firepower and much of its star power. The Kings needed a career-high 42 points from Mike Bibby to hold off a 13-22 Orlando team on Sunday.
"They've got a lot of concerns, but we can't feel sorry for them," D'Antoni said Monday before the team left Phoenix.
By the end, the Suns were the team in need of pity.
Shooting just 37 percent from the field (tying a season low) and missing 17 of 23 3-pointers is usually enough to get Phoenix beat. Having only three players in double figures — and having starters Steve Nash (seven points), Boris Diaw (five) and Kurt Thomas (zero in 24 minutes) combine for a measly 12 points — will likely do it, too. But the matador defense that allowed the likes of Kevin Martin to score a career-high 25 points and Francisco Garcia to add career highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds — that’s where things got truly ugly.
All five Kings starters, three of whom are usually reserves, had at least 18 points.
"We didn't play any defense and we played poorly in every area you can think of," said Nash, who missed 6 of 8 shots and was clearly frustrated with the evening. "You never know why that happens, but tonight it did. We had no combinations that worked."
Never down by more than 18 points in a game all season, the Suns fell behind by 20 late in the first half and by as many as 33 in the second half, watching helplessly as the Kings alternated unabated slam dunks with one of their season-high 12 3-pointers.
Maybe the Suns were looking ahead to tonight's meeting with the second-place Clippers in Los Angeles. But if the Clippers were tuned in Tuesday, they are the ones now licking their chops in anticipation.
"We came in on our heels and they just wiped us out," said Shawn Marion, who led the Suns with 25 points but missed his share of shots early when the Kings took command. "We have to come out more aggressive (tonight) and show that we're ready to play, or the Clippers can do the same thing to us. This is the NBA. You can get whipped out here."
Phoenix actually had a five-point lead at 21-16 on a Marion layin with 3:02 left in the first quarter. But then the Kings nailed three 3-pointers in the next 56 seconds (two by Bibby, one by Martin) and finished the first quarter with a 16-2 run to lead by nine at 32-23.
The Suns kept running. Kept shooting. Kept missing. And the Kings kept pouring it on. "We just had no energy and they played great," D'Antoni said. “We were really flat, so we got our butts busted. This is the first time all year, and we don’t want to dwell on it too much, as long as it doesn't happen often."
FIT FOR A KING
The Kings hope to have all three of their injured starters back by the end of the week, but many think they shouldn't rush them after Tuesday's performance.
Sacramento's starters outscored Phoenix 105-56 and had three players with 10 or more rebounds for the first time this season.
Of Phoenix's 13 losses this season, six have come to Western Conference foes Dallas (0-2), Memphis (0-2) and the Kings (0-2), who are 13-21 against the rest of the NBA and still mired in the Pacific basement. . . .
Nash is the first NBA player since Magic Johnson (1990-91) to average at least 19 points and 11 assists in the same season.