Kings (11-38) at Suns (25-20)
Scoring: Kings 13th (99.3), Suns sixth (104).
Shooting: Kings 24th (44.5 percent), Suns first (49.6).
Scoring defense: Kings 29th (108.4), Suns 26th (103.4).
Shooting defense: Kings 29th (48.1 percent), Suns tied for 12th (45.3).
Rebound differential: Kings 29th (minus-4.4), Suns 14th (plus-0.6).
The link: Suns coverage in the Arizona Republic.
The almanac: On this date in 1968, Wilt Chamberlain of the 76ers had a club-record 21 assists, a mark later tied by Maurice Cheeks. On this date in 1994, Lenny Wilkens of the Hawks joined Red Auerbach as the only coaches with 900 career victories. On this date in 1996, the TNT broadcast of the Lakers-Bulls game in the first meeting of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan since the 1991 Finals set the record for highest-rated cable telecast in league history. That stood until a Bulls-Magic playoff game in 1996.
But things are still going way backwards. No breaking news there. Except that there is fresh evidence of a new kind of backwards.
The Thunder is getting a lot better, the Timberwolves are getting better and the Warriors are sort of getting better, which means that young teams (Oklahoma City, Minnesota) are developing and veteran/youth mixes (Golden State) are finding order while the Kings are the same mess. Progress in other places, some with inferior rosters and less experience to pull themselves up, zero progress in Sacramento.
The Thunder, Timberwolves and Warriors are making the Kings look worse, just when that didn't seem possible, because they're improving and getting something other than a paycheck out of the tedium of the middle of the season. Only the Grizzlies can match the Kings for bad teams getting worse, and that's taken Memphis firing its coach and riding a 12-game losing streak. (The Wizards are out of the discussion because their problems are largely injury related.)
*The Timberwolves were 4-23 on Dec. 25. In 19 games since, they're 12-7, including a five-game winning streak and a three-game winning streak. There have been wins over the Suns and Hornets. Kevin Love averaged more minutes in January than any other month.
*The Thunder was 3-29 on Dec. 30. In 16 games since, it is 8-8, with wins over the Jazz and Pistons. Lottery pick Russell Westbrook has made nice strides. Kevin Durant is turning into the point machine everyone predicted.
*The Warriors were 8-22 on Dec. 25. In 18 games since, they're 7-11 and have defeated the Celtics, Hawks and Hornets. Golden State also had the impressive double of losing to the Thunder and Timberwolves in consecutive outings, but this still has been the best stretch of 2008-09. It's not all related to the return of Monta Ellis, though that's another energy boost.
*The Kings were 7-24 on Dec. 29. In 18 games since, they're 4-14, with wins over the Mavericks, Clippers, Warriors and Thunder. But at least they're developing Brad Miller for the future -- he averaged more minutes in January than Spencer Hawes or Jason Thompson.
A lot of the investment was because he was playing well. Some of the investment was probably to show interested suitors he's still got something. Point made. No team will lower the bid if Miller's time declines the next couple weeks. It'll be understandable. Some might even say logical.
Four-and-14 and mostly not even developing the young players. Thompson had a good January and played more than either of the previous two full months. But Francisco Garcia averaged fewer minutes than December, his only other full month of the season, and part of the December was easing into the lineup after missing the first 17 games with a calf injury. Hawes averaged fewer minutes in January than November or December.
There's got to be something wrong in a legit center prospect going from a very encouraging first couple months of his second season to losing minutes because he's struggling with his shot and generally out of rhythm. Hawes is getting squeezed because Miller needs to be showcased and because he gives the Kings a better chance to win, and that is sure turning out well. Some arrangement.