Kings close in on Playoff berth as Western Conference chaos unfolds
Mar 23, 2023, 8:36 AM | Updated: 8:40 am
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
With ten games remaining in the regular season, it’s becoming apparent that the Sacramento Kings will make history in the very near future.
Even following Tuesday’s loss to the Boston Celtics, the Kings maintain a comfortable 5.5-game lead over the fifth-seed Los Angeles Clippers in the chase for home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
While many eyes are already looking toward potential opening-round opponents, Sacramento still has an item that they need to check off of its to-do list, one that fans have been waiting over 16 years for:
Officially clinch an NBA Playoff berth.
In recent years, the Kings have been among the many teams near the bottom of the postseason picture vying for a top-10 spot. Last season, Sacramento missed the Play-In by four games. In 2020-21, they missed a top-10 spot by two games. The year before? 2.5 games.
Thankfully, that isn’t the case this season as the 43-29 Kings (third place in the Western Conference standings) have all but put the Play-In race in the rear-view.
With ten games remaining, Sacramento holds an eight-game lead over the 11th-place Utah Jazz, meaning that one more Kings win should clinch at least a top-ten finish.
Sacramento will be playing postseason basketball, but a tenth-through-seventh finish isn’t the goal for a team that has turned heads around the league.
The Kings aren’t just closing in on clinching its first NBA Playoff appearance since the 2005-06 season, but they’re also increasingly likely to secure its first top-four finish since the 2003-04 season when they placed fourth in the West.
Four wins. That’s what Sacramento needs to clinch a first-round berth AND home-court advantage, meaning that any team they face in the playoffs will have to play its first two games at an expected raucous Golden 1 Center.
With ten games remaining, let’s look at the Kings’ road ahead and dive into the state of the packed Western Conference as we move within 18 days of the regular season finale.
Can Any Teams Catch The Kings?
The short answer is yes.
The slightly longer answer is yes, but it would take a collapse from Sacramento and some impressive play from the Suns and Clippers down the final stretch.
After losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, the Clippers sit 5.5 games behind the Kings–who own the tie-breaker over Los Angeles after posting a 3-1 record in head-to-head play this season.
Thee Clippers’ remaining schedule isn’t a walk in the park, as they will face the Thunder once again on Wednesday, with two matchups against the Memphis Grizzlies and a meeting with the Suns on the horizon.
When you factor in the loss of All-Star forward Paul George, who suffered a knee sprain during Tuesday’s loss to OKC, Los Angeles doesn’t appear to be a threat to Sacramento regarding securing home court.
ESPN Sources: After imaging today, Clippers star Paul George has a sprained right knee and will be re-evaluated in 2-to-3 weeks. pic.twitter.com/jgYytDarfs
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 22, 2023
Clippers record: 38-35
Games remaining: 9
Likely record needed to catch Kings: 9-0
Tie-breaker: Kings (3-1)
Friday’s matchup between Phoenix and Sacramento at Golden 1 Center is significant for both teams.
The Kings will enter play with a five-game lead over the Suns, meaning that a Sacramento win would likely guarantee the franchise its first Pacific Division title since the 2002-03 season.
Phoenix already owns the tie-breaker over Sacramento due to its 9-4 record in division play, and they are 2-1 against the Kings thus far, ensuring at least a 2-2 head-to-head record.
While a win over the Kings on Friday would trim the deficit in the standings to four games, the Suns have an absolute buzzsaw of a schedule remaining–the fifth-hardest remaining slate of games in the NBA, per Tankathon.
Nine of Phoenix’s 10 remaining games will take place against teams that are either locked into Playoff spots, battling for positioning, or fighting for their postseason lives:
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Suns are on track to finish the season with a record of 43-39, which would have them finishing five games behind the Kings in the standings.
Kevin Durant’s return is on the horizon, but the Suns will have an uphill battle catching Sacramento during the regular season’s final weeks–one that will be all but impossible if they can’t beat the Kings on Friday.
Suns record: 38-34
Games remaining: 10
Likely record needed to catch Kings: 9-1
Tie-breaker: Suns (2-1), Division record (9-4)
Remaining games: 1 (Friday, March 24th at Golden 1 Center)
The Road To A Clinch
For the Sacramento Kings to officially clinch a top-six spot and automatic first-round playoff berth, it’s simple:
Continue to win, and you’re in.
After posting an 11-2 record in its first 13 games out of the All-Star break, the Kings have lost consecutive games for the first time since February 3-5th following losses to Utah and Boston. Although Sacramento has hit its first skid in over a month, they remain on the doorstep of celebrating the end of the playoff drought.
The Kings’ upcoming schedule presents the team with a solid opportunity to both clinch a playoff spot and create some separation from Phoenix and the Clippers in the standings:
Four wins over the final ten games will get Sacramento to the finish line.
With all the chaos currently unfolding near the bottom of the postseason race, the Kings can’t bank on a revolving door of seventh-seed teams to help aid its path in reducing the magic number to zero. Sacramento can clinch on its own, and they have a good chance of doing so by this time next week when they face a Portland Trail Blazers team that is all but out of the race.
After playing five games over seven nights in five different cities, the Kings will hope to benefit from two off-days before opening up its final 10-game slate on Friday against the Suns.
Kings Magic Number: 3
Kings Magic Number for home court: 4
Avoiding The Chaos
As previously mentioned, this season marks the first time over the past four years that the Sacramento Kings haven’t been scraping and clawing their way toward a 10th-place finish.
While the Kings focus on a top-four finish in the standings, the fourth-through-12 spots in the Western Conference are separated by just three games.
That’s right–eight teams vying for six spots separated by a mere couple of games. It’s going to be a musical chairs-style race to the finish line for these teams:
At long last, Sacramento has avoided the late-season standings mess and has a clear road to where they want to be come April 9th.
Three wins, and the Kings will clinch its first playoff berth since 2005-06, first Pacific Division championship since 2002-03, and first home-court advantage since 2003-04.
Three wins to make history in three different avenues. That’s all that Sacramento needs.
Sacramento will have a chance to all but ensure its first Pacific Division championship since the 2002-03 season if they can beat the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at Golden 1 Center.
Be sure to get all of your Kings vs. Suns coverage right here on Sactown Sports 1140 beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night with Scott Marsh and Henry ‘The High Flyer’ Turner before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown Sacramento.
Upcoming Sacramento Kings Schedule
Friday, March 24th – Sacramento Kings vs. Phoenix Suns – 7:00 PM PST
Saturday, March 25th – Sacramento Kings vs. Utah Jazz – 7:00 PM PST
Monday, March 27th – Sacramento Kings vs. Minnesota Timberwolves – 7:00 PM PST
Wednesday, March 29th – Sacramento Kings @ Portland Trail Blazers – 7:00 PM PST
Friday, March 31st – Sacramento Kings @ Portland Trail Blazers – 7:00 PM PST
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