Suddenly hot Kings look to keep rolling vs. Suns


Suddenly hot Kings look to keep rolling vs. Suns

March 29, 2011

PHOENIX (36-36) vs.
KINGS (20-52)

Coverage begins at 7 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns' playoff hopes are getting slimmer as they continue to fade in the Western Conference.

The Sacramento Kings will miss out on the postseason for the fifth year in a row, but find themselves in the midst of a season-best winning streak.

Phoenix hopes to avoid a fourth loss in five games while host Sacramento tries for a fourth consecutive win overall and third straight in the series when the teams meet Tuesday night.

The Suns' postseason chances took a major hit Sunday as they fell for the seventh time in 10 games, losing 91-83 to Dallas.

That defeat, along with a Memphis victory, dropped 10th-place Phoenix (36-36) four games back of the Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

The Suns, who rank fourth in the league with 105.0 points per game, have scored 100 or fewer in six of their last 10 games, losing all six and falling to 5-21 in such situations this season.

Steve Nash, averaging 15.5 points, continues to play at less than 100 percent and has scored a total of nine points on 4-of-20 shooting in his last two contests.

"I am having a hard time getting the ball in the basket right now. It has been a tough year," said Nash, averaging 23.3 points and 14.6 assists in three meetings with the Kings in 2010-11. "We are facing some pains right now because of the mountain we had to climb all year. I think we have to play with class and dignity and go on fighting every night."

Center Marcin Gortat - averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds in his last six games - and swingman Jared Dudley started in place of Robin Lopez and Vince Carter on Sunday. Gortat and Dudley combined for 40 points and 20 rebounds.

Despite Nash's impressive numbers against Sacramento (20-52), Phoenix has lost back-to-back games to the Kings, partly due to getting outrebounded by an average of 21.5. The Suns had taken 17 of the previous 19 matchups in the series.

After winning four of their previous 22 games overall, the Kings went 4-1 on their recently completed road trip - including Sunday's 114-111 overtime win over Philadelphia, their third consecutive victory.

REWIND: Kings prevail in overtime vs. Sixers

"We know our record is not very good. We always felt we had a good team," coach Paul Westphal told "We're learning. We're becoming a good defensive team and we're sorting things out."

Guard Marcus Thornton, averaging 22.0 points since joining Sacramento from New Orleans prior to the trade deadline, scored 32 on Sunday and was one of seven Kings to reach double figures.

Sacramento trailed by as many as 12 points but outrebounded the 76ers by 22 and recorded its first OT win in six tries.

"Our team has a tendency to hang our heads and not bounce back from those kinds of things," Westphal said. "We haven't been a good closing team for most of the year, but lately, we've improved in that area, too."

Center Samuel Dalembert had his third straight double-double with 13 points and a season-best 19 rebounds. Tyreke Evans scored 10 points off the bench in his second game back since missing 19 with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

Thornton averaged 20.5 points - 7.3 more than his career mark - in his last four games against the Suns while with the Hornets. He had 10 points and 10 rebounds Jan. 30 at Phoenix for his only career double-double.

Reports: Giants dismiss Dave Righetti as pitching coach, reassign others


Reports: Giants dismiss Dave Righetti as pitching coach, reassign others

In a shocking move, the Giants appear to be moving on from longtime pitching coach Dave Righetti and other coaches.

According to FanRag Sports, the Giants will reassign Righetti within the organization, likely to a front office position. Righetti has been with the team since 2000 and has served as Bruce Bochy's right-hand man since he took over as manager in 2007.

Bench coach Ron Wotus and hitting coach Hensley Meulens will also be reassigned, according to FanRag Sports.

Bullpen coach Mark Gardner will also be reassigned within the organization, according to USA Today.

The coaching staff shake-up comes on the heels of the Giants finishing in last place in the NL West with a 64-98 record.

On Thursday, The Mercury News reported that the Giants interviewed current Red Sox hitting coach.

More to come...

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).