SACRAMENTO – Devin Booker came back from injury, Tyler Johnson started at point guard – but the losing continued for the Phoenix Suns.
Sacramento led by as many as 21 points in the first half in handing the Suns a 14th consecutive loss, 117-104, Sunday afternoon at Golden 1 Center.
“You’ve got to keep coming in here daily with a positive attitude,” Suns center Richaun Holmes said. “Continue to work hard. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We’ve got to dig ourselves out of this.”
The Suns (11-47) are a loss away from tying a franchise record for consecutive defeats. They lost 15 in a row last season and may match that Wednesday at Los Angeles against the Clippers.
Booker will be in Charlotte next weekend to defend his 3-point contest title, but considering the current state of the Suns, he’s not feeling this pause in play.
“We don’t deserve an All-Star break,” Booker said. “We need to work on our game as players. I know me, I’m going to be at All-Star weekend, but right after that, I’ve got to touch a basketball and still polish up on things. I hope that everybody has that same mindset.”
As bad as that sounds, this could’ve been worse had Booker needed a cart to leave the court Sunday.
Booker knocked his left knee with Bogdan Bogdanovic, who looked to drive around him on the baseline in the third quarter.
Missing the past two games with right hamstring tightness, Booker stayed down for a minute grabbing at his knee. Booker limped off the court, had a brace on it while on the bench, but returned to start the fourth quarter as he finished with a team-high 27 points, eight boards and six assists.
“I’ve had it before, a little knee-to-knee,” Booker said. “It hurt worse when it first happens. Just got to wait for it get loosened up, but I was like, man, something else, but nah, it’s fine.”
Booker knocked down a 3 to cut what was once a 25-point, second-half Sacramento lead to 12, but rookie 7-footer Marvin Bagley III scored nine straight points to put the Kings up 96-77 with 9:51 left.
“It’s just fighting that uphill battle,” Booker said. “When you’re fighting that uphill battle, any mistake can ruin it. Just do our work early so we don’t have to fight uphill all game.”
Bagley, in his first NBA regular season game against his hometown team, went for a career-high 32 points with 14 coming in the fourth for Sacramento (30-26).
The one-and-done Duke All-American was injured for the two previous games against the Suns that were both in Phoenix.
“He played a complete game,” Suns wing Josh Jackson said about Bagley, who added seven rebounds and went 11-of-13 from the line. “He was rebounding, getting offensive rebounds. Getting things easy. Getting to the line. Knocking down open shots. He had a really good game. Played a complete game. Did some of everything. I like his game.”
This is not how the Suns envisioned Sunday’s game going with Booker back from his latest hamstring setback. The Suns were coming off a strong effort in Friday’s loss against Golden State.
Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Golden State coach Steve Kerr gave props to the Suns, who led Golden State by as many as 17 points in the first half without Booker, TJ Warren and rookie point guard De’Anthony Melton before losing by 10.
“They played extremely hard,” said Durant after the game. “There’s a lot of turnover on this team. They got so many young players coming in and out of there, they don’t have a point guard. D-Book has been in and out of the lineup. You just want to see a young team that plays extremely hard and makes it a competitive game and tonight they did that.”
The Suns came off that game with some confidence.
TJ Warren missed his ninth straight game with right ankle soreness and rookie point guard De’Anthony Melton sat for an eighth straight game with a right ankle sprain – but Booker was back.
Plus, Johnson got his first start for the Suns in his second game with the franchise since being traded from Miami to Phoenix for 10-year veteran Ryan Anderson before Thursday’s trade deadline.
The Suns still dropped another one.
“It’s up to us to decide who we want to be,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said.
Booker had a strong scoring first half with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, but the rest of the Suns shot 13-of-36 in scoring 29 points.
As a team, Phoenix went 2-of-14 from 3 in the first half in finishing 6-of-27 for the game from distance.
Add eight Phoenix first-half turnovers that led to 12 Sacramento (30-26) points and yielding 51 percent shooting and no wonder the Suns were down 19 at the half, 63-44.
“They threw the first punch,” Kokoskov said. “We knew they were going to throw the first punch. They’re going to come hard at us. We were not ready to accept that punch. We knew it was coming. We didn’t take it serious.”
Johnson, who started in place of rookie Elie Okobo, had nine points on 4-of-12 shooting. A career 43.6 percent shooter from the field, Johnson has connected on just 23.8 percent (5-of-21), going 2-of-9 from 3.
The four-year veteran is a career 36.6 shooter from 3.
So he’s clearly not on his game. Adding him to the starting lineup and Booker returning may have factored into the poor start.
“We can’t use any of those excuses,” Kokoskov said. “I’m the kind of coach that controls his offense. We have a new guy, quarterback. Point guard is a new guy and Book is just recently recovering. Came back and joined the team. So it just changed the chemistry a little bit on the court, but there’s no excuse. We have to play as a group. We have to play together. We have to play well.”
The Suns will play Wednesday at Los Angeles against the Clippers, who have beaten them three times this season, before the All-Star break.
They return to action Feb. 21 at Cleveland to begin a three-game road trip that continues Feb. 23 at Atlanta and concludes Feb. 25 at Miami.
Phoenix lost at home to the Heat, 115-98, in December and fell to Atlanta, 118-112, earlier this month. The Suns have yet to play the Cavaliers, who also have just 11 wins and lost 23 of their last 56 games.
As bad as that sounds, Phoenix is on a similar skid – 3-21 in its last 24 games.
And it could get even worse.
“Good teams always find a way to figure it out,” Kokoskov said. “That’s what we have to do. Challenge ourselves to be a good team.”