NBA

Kings Set For Crucial Back-To-Back With Play-In Implications

Mar 1, 2022, 11:50 AM | Updated: 11:51 am
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - OCTOBER 29: Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the New Orleans Pelicans reacts after...
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

With just 19 games remaining in the season for the Sacramento Kings, each game is important in its own way.

If the Kings are aspiring to reach the postseason–seeing what the team did at the deadline and hearing what the players are saying, it’s fair to assume that they are–the next two games could very well determine the tone of the final weeks of the season.

Entering play on Wednesday night, Sacramento (23-40) sits three games behind the two teams that are currently tied for the 10th-spot in the Western Conference standings: the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers.

Following a blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, the Kings will set their sights on the Pelicans as they will begin a pivotal back-to-back set on Wednesday at Smoothie King Center.

If Sacramento comes away with a win in New Orleans, they won’t have much time to bask in the victory as they will immediately head to San Antonio for another important game against the 12th-seed Spurs.

These games are significant for a couple of reasons:

  1. The Kings need to make up ground in the standings. They will have a chance to do so against the very teams that they are chasing.
  2. If the Kings (2-0 vs NOP this season) defeat New Orleans on Wednesday, they will clinch the season series and tie-breaker against the Pelicans. With a loss, the Kings will have another chance to secure the tie-breaker (if they are still in the hunt, that is) on April 5th in Sacramento.
  3. Sacramento (1-1 vs SA this season) is in a position to claim the season series against San Antonio with a win on Thursday. If they lose to the Spurs, they will also lose the season series and tie-breaker in the process.

It all starts on Wednesday in New Orleans.

With Portland facing the Suns in Phoenix, the Kings could possibly be within two games of both teams with a win over the Pelicans.

Defeating New Orleans isn’t a given, however. This is not the same Pelicans team that the Kings defeated twice during the opening week of the season.

Sacramento wasn’t the only Western Conference team to go out and acquire talent during the trade deadline, as the Pelicans swung a trade for veteran guard CJ McCollum.

Since being acquired from Portland on February 8th, the 30-year-old is averaging 28.0 points, 5.9 rebounds 5.6 steals, and 1.4 steals per game on 52-percent shooting from the field and 43-percent shooting from beyond the arc.

New Orleans has won two-straight games after defeating Phoenix by 15 points on Friday before embarrassing the Los Angeles Lakers by a final of 123-95 on Sunday night.

While McCollum and the Pelicans tapped into some success over the past couple of games, the same goes for De’Aaron Fox and recently-acquired center Domantas Sabonis.

Fox has fully morphed back into his 2020-21 form, averaging 27.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game over his last eight games. The 24-year-old has found his touch, having shot 50-percent from the field, 35-percent from three-point range, and 77-percent from the free-throw line during that time span as well.

We also know this much: De’Aaron Fox loves to play against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Last season, Fox scored 43 points against the Pelicans not once, but twice. Over his last five games against New Orleans, the guard is averaging 33.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 1.4 steals per contest.

Not only has Fox played well as of late and historically dominated the Pelicans, he will get some help in the post this time when the Kings face the Pelicans.

‘The Fox and The Ox’ have looked as if they are in the makings of forming an efficient guard-big duo, with Sabonis posting double-doubles in six of his seven games as a King on averages of 18.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per contest.

With Sabonis in the fold, the Kings have a formidable force in the paint to combat Pelicans center Jonas Valančiūnas.

Over two matchups against Sacramento this season, Valančiūnas is averaging 19.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game on 55-percent shooting from the field and 60-percent shooting from the three-point line.

Slowing down Valančiūnas by beating the big man at his own game–attacking the glass–is something that the professional rebounder in Sabonis can bring to the table.

While the team’s focus remains on Wednesday night, if you look ahead to Thursday’s matchup in San Antonio the importance remains for the Kings.

Sacramento is 4-8 on the second game of back-to-backs this season. This could prove to be a problem against a Spurs team that is 25-4 against the Kings on their home floor since the start of the 2004-05 season.

Of course, these are not Tim Duncan’s Spurs.

This season, the Spurs hold an 11-18 record at AT&T Center–the third-worst home record in the Western Conference.

Anything can happen on any given night when these players lace up on the hardwood. No matter what history says, the Sacramento Kings have an opportunity to close the gap.

If somehow, someway the Kings win both games on Wednesday and Thursday, they could be just one game out of the 10th and final Play-In spot. That’s the best-case scenario.

Now, if Sacramento falls flat and loses both contests it could unofficially signal the end of the postseason chase. Falling five games out of the 10th-spot with 17 games to go and the eighth-most-difficult strength of schedule in the league, you can pretty much kiss the Play-in goodbye.

The current debate around Kings social media has been whether or not the Kings should even chase the Play-In.

To many, the idea of sitting players like Fox, Sabonis, and Harrison Barnes down the stretch to ensure a top draft pick is the logical way to go.

Sure, losing out would give Sacramento a very shiny asset in a top-five pick, one that they could use to upgrade its roster via selecting young talent or using the pick to acquire a veteran difference-maker.

Here’s the thing, though: the Kings franchise, both management and the players currently have zero interest in that path.

As long as this team is in the hunt, they are going to try and win every single game. (Disclaimer: just because the Sacramento Kings try to win, doesn’t mean that they are going to win, as we all know).

Any scenario involving the team shutting down Fox, Sabonis, and Barnes would likely follow the Kings being mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.

With 19 games to go and a three-game gap separating themselves from the 10th seed, Sacramento is very much alive in the race. Wednesday night’s game in New Orleans could be the team’s most important win or the season–or another letdown in a season that has seemed cursed at certain points.

It’s almost funny that this team is playing games with playoff implications in the month of March, but here we are. Through all of the roster changes, coaching change, and drama, the Kings are within arms reach of putting themselves in a position to make things interesting down the closing stretch of the season.

Let’s see what this team is made of in a must-win situation–two of them on back-to-back nights, that is.

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