Without question, the next three weeks of the season will be among the most difficult for the Kings. They will almost certainly be the most important. As Sacramento sits at an improbable 9-8, the opponents get more difficult and the sites more foreign.
But it's not an impossible stretch. None of these games are unwinnable (though Wednesday's game in San Antonio is pretty close, given the rest issues). Of the next 10, tonight's match in Phoenix might be the second most difficult (behind the S.A. game), with the Suns undefeated at home and 14-5 overall. Phoenix has excelled despite a really, really tough schedule -- only this week's defeat to the Knicks and a previous road loss to a CP3-less New Orleans count as "bad losses." The other three defeats? At Orlando, at the Lakers, at Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Kings have one road win all year. You see the problem.
I'm confident the Kings will add to that road win total soon, but maybe not for a couple weeks. And the next team visiting ARCO (Miami on Sunday) comes in full of fire after a devastating loss to the Lakers last night, and with more rest than the Kings. Given that Sacramento hasn't proven any road win can be guaranteed, the team has one real "highly likely" victory in the next three weeks: a home game against the Wolves.
In other words, no matter how the Kings play, this could get ugly quickly. There's something to be said for beating lesser teams, as the Kings have (for the most part) this year. This team is so much better than last season's version, no matter what happens from here. But don't get it twisted: it's going to get rough. There will be losses, perhaps blow-out losses. There might be losing streaks. I'd love to be surprised, but a sense of realism dictates the realization that reality is working against the Kings. With no Kevin Martin, beating the Hornets, the Knicks, the Nets, the Pacers ... that's improbable, perhaps, but believable. With no Kevin Martin, beating the Suns? The Heat? The Spurs? The Hornets on the road? It's much less likely, unfortunately.
I hate to be a downer, but as high as these wins have taken our spirits, we should prepare for the slide. This team probably won't be above .500 a week from now, and that's OK. The team is improving. The rookies are incredible. The prospects are developing. The program is building. Things are going according to plan, and the fight will still be on when the dust settles.