The Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns are already two of the worst teams in the Western Conference, but they could struggle even more as problems surround a key frontline player for each.
While it's unclear how long DeMarcus Cousins will be on the court for the Kings, the Suns play their first game after learning Marcin Gortat might not be back this season as they visit northern California on Friday night.
The Kings (21-42), at the bottom of the West and a game behind Phoenix (21-40), have lost nine of 11 and may have trouble slowing their skid if they can't figure out their issues with Cousins. The third-year center was averaging 18.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 33.2 minutes during the New Year before getting his playing time cut over the past five games.
That stretch has seen Cousins average 9.8 points on 30.9 percent shooting and 7.8 boards, playing less than 24 minutes in four of those contests.
"You kind of expect anything here," Cousins said when asked if he was surprised about his minutes.
His body language also has been less than stellar, sometimes conveying disinterest. He was seen watching the in-house band instead of joining his team's huddle during a timeout in the second quarter of an 87-83 loss at Golden State on Wednesday. Cousins had five points on 2-of-10 shooting in less than 21 minutes, sitting the entire second and fourth quarters.
"At this stage of the season, sure, you'd love to have him on the floor playing well, but sometimes when you're struggling you've got to tip your hat and say, 'You know what, tonight's not my night,' and sometimes that happens," coach Keith Smart told the league's official website. "I went with a group that kept us in the game."
Cousins averaged 25.6 points in five career starts against Phoenix before two meetings this season, totaling 24 points on 8-of-28 shooting. Sacramento lost both by double digits and has dropped five straight in the series.
Cousins could have an easier time Friday with Gortat not on the floor. He left in the first quarter of Wednesday's 98-71 home loss to Toronto after stepping on another player's foot and crumpling to the floor.
X-rays after the game were negative, but an MRI taken Thursday revealed a midfoot sprain to his right foot. Gortat will be out at least three to four weeks, possibly ending his season.
Averaging 11.1 points and a team-best 8.5 rebounds, Gortat has started 138 straight games for the Suns. He didn't believe the injury was overly serious when he spoke to reporters after Wednesday's game.
"I don't know what happened," Gortat said. "I just heard a pop. I'll be able to play. ... Well, I say yeah but the doctors say no, I'm out for a few days, maybe weeks."
The injury further depletes a frontcourt already missing Jermaine O'Neal, who left the team to be with his 13-year-old daughter who is undergoing surgery to repair a leaking heart valve.
The Suns (21-40) committed a season-high 29 turnovers Wednesday and had a three-game winning streak snapped.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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