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Critical Stretch Could Be Kings' Last Stand Against Humiliation

The Sacramento Kings aren't going anywhere -- the playoffs were always a dream, and that they have become a pipe dream isn't surprising. The team is young and inexperienced, and every lesson has come on the fly. There's remarkably little consistency in any single thing the Kings do; without consistency, there's little chance of consistent success.

But the season will be considered a success or failure based on growth and improvement. And it's clear that the one thing this team needs in order to grow some confidence is wins. Everything will look so much better with a few more wins -- a record above that of the other struggling young teams, some evidence that things are being done right, an avoidance of a wholly embarrassing record.

Not all bad young teams need wins to justify the program. Heck, last year, the Kings were bad -- third worst in the NBA. At no point did you feel like the season's trajectory hung on a couple of wins. That's different this year, in my opinion. There's a huge difference to me in heading into the midpoint of the season with eight or nine wins versus 12 or 13. The Kings will be among the worst in the NBA either way. But success, I think, with this team, can only help breed future success. Confidence for Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and the young guns can only help breed more confidence.

That's what makes this stretch so critical: it's the best opportunity for some positive momentum the Kings have.

The Kings play eight of the next nine games at home. Only three of the opponents have winning records -- the Hawks and the Nuggets, who the Kings play twice (once in Denver). The next five games -- all at home -- come against opponents with an average winning percentage of .370. The Rockets, Bucks and Grizzlies are substantially better than the Kings, but these are games the Kings should contest, especially in Sacramento. The Kings can't be much worse than the Warriors and Clippers because the Warriors and Clippers are pretty bad. And while L.A. has beaten Sacramento twice, the Kings can win that game.

If the Kings come out of this just 3-6, that's a huge boost to the record (currently .208, they'd be .242 at 8-25) and hopes of breaking 20 or even 25 wins on the season. If they come away with just one or two wins? Seventeen wins on the season will look like a stretch.

After this stretch, the Kings go on the road for six, and nine of 11. Sacramento's next homestand features, in order, the Hornets, Celtics, Spurs, Jazz, Mavericks and Thunder. Following that are three- and four-game road trips bookending All-Star Weekend. By that point, 57 games will be in the books, and the trade deadline will have passed, and we will be watching Kyrie Irving in the ACC tournament and praying there's no lock-out. That's why this stretch is critical: because the Kings will probably lose 80 percent of their games between the end of this homestand and the trade deadling. If the Kings ever want to win some games, now is the time.

Going 3-6 in such a stretch isn't a lofty goal. But it could be the difference in a disastrous campaign and a passable, future-looking season. We'll see how it shakes out, beginning this afternoon against the Rockets.