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Pacific Division’s best clash as Suns meet Kings

Dec 7, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) and Chris Paul (3) against the Boston Celtics at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns’ Kevin Durant era has opened at a more deliberate pace, with the star forward serving as more of a celebrity and spectator than basketball player so far.

With Durant still not ready to hit the court in the desert, the new Western Conference favorite welcomes fellow newcomers T.J. Warren and Darius Bazley to the team at home Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings.

Acquired at the deadline from the Brooklyn Nets, Durant attended a star-studded Super Bowl party on Saturday and is expected to be on hand for the Suns’ three-day, two-game homestand leading into the All-Star break.

But the two-time champion with the Golden State Warriors has already been ruled out through the break – including the All-Star Game itself – with a sprained right MCL.

Warren was acquired by the Suns in the same trade as Durant, while Bazley was picked up from Oklahoma City. Both are expected to suit up for Monday’s game, which matches teams separated by two games atop the Pacific Division.

All three newcomers practiced Monday, although there was no doubt whose appearance provided the highlight.

“He looked great,” Warren said of Durant. “You know Kevin. He’s a well-oiled machine.”

The Kings retained a three-game edge in the loss column over the Suns with a 133-128 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks at home on Saturday night. That game marked the first time Luka Doncic and deadline acquisition Kyrie Irving teamed for Dallas.

As Bazley makes his Suns debut on Monday, Warren will be making a return to the same Phoenix franchise that drafted him 14th overall in 2014. He played five seasons with the Suns, averaging 14.4 points per game.

He has played just 97 games since in four seasons for the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets because of a variety of injuries, the most serious of which being a fractured left foot that required multiple surgeries and forced him to sit out the entire 2021-22 season.

The Kings are plenty familiar with Warren and Bazley. They’ve gone up against Warren 13 times in his career and seen him score 20 or more points on five occasions. And they’ve dealt with Bazley eight times, including three times already this season, when he averaged 13.7 points.

Sacramento and Phoenix will be duel for just the second time this season. The Suns took the season-series opener 122-117 on the road in November, with Devin Booker exploding for 44 points in the victory.

The Kings’ De’Aaron Fox countered with just 11 points on that night, to equal his second-lowest output of the season, but is making up for lost time of late. He has gone for 31, 33 and 36 points in his last three outings.

Fox saved 26 of his 36 points for the fourth quarter and overtime of Saturday’s win over Mavericks, almost single-handedly rallying the Kings to a win after All-Star teammate Domantas Sabonis had fouled out.

“I fouled out, but I was like: Fox’s got this,” Sabonis said. “He’s been doing this all year. He’s definitely an All-Star. We’re not here today without him. He’s been amazing all year.”

Tuesday’s game is the last before the All-Star break for the Kings, who have led the Pacific since Jan. 2, after finishing in last place a year ago.

–Field Level Media