This is a thought I’ve been meaning to get out of my head and on to the internet for a couple of weeks, but now that the Kings have a few games under their basketball belt, I have some direct examples to reference. Bear with me.
I’m watching the Sacramento Kings, or better yet, analyzing the Kings, as if they are playoff contenders. I think that is a fair lens to watch this team through, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean I think the Kings are going to make the playoffs, I’m going to treat them this way until their trajectory becomes clear. What do we have here? 38ish wins? .500? High 40s and playoff contention? It’s not something we’re going to know this early, but this roster is talented enough to warrant frustration when the Memphis Grizzlies destroy them at home, and if I'm being honest, why shouldn't we treat this team as if they have a shot at making the playoffs? If you don't do it at the beginning of the season, you may not have an opportunity to do it at all.
Analyzing a team as if they have reachable playoff aspirations is something we haven’t been able to do in nearly a decade, and that’s going to take some expectation readjusting on our part.
The Kings’ opening night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers is what I’d consider an acceptable loss. The Clippers are one of the best teams in the NBA, and the Kings made a run that put them in a position to win that game. Was it a great performance? No, but this is the NBA. You’re going to lose games against good teams. The Clippers are 4-0 right now.
The first real test for the Kings came against the Los Angeles Lakers. They needed to take care of business against a bad team at home, and they did it. Bravo, kudos, etc. Good teams win that game, especially after a loss, and they do it handily. The Kings did exactly that.
As if things weren’t hard enough to gauge before DeMarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles strain, his absence in the second half of the Kings-Clipper rematch makes that game hard to take anything away from. The Kings fought hard and made that one interesting towards the end, but I’d be lying if I said I had any confidence in the Kings’ ability to actually pull that game out with Cousins out of the lineup. I thought that was an example of an acceptable loss, though. Again, the Clippers are a great basketball team. It’s going to be extremely hard to beat them at full strength.
Last night’s loss to the Grizzlies felt alarming, if only because the Kings’ newfound depth has been (rightfully!) praised all offseason, and we didn’t see the Kings come anywhere close to covering for DeMarcus Cousins’ absence. A playoff contender can lose to the Memphis Grizzlies, there is no shame in that, but it was the performance that deserves criticism. Why were the Kings so bad? Is a question we can ask right now, but won't know the answer to for quite some time. Maybe it was just an off night, maybe it was adjusting to life without Boogie, or maybe the team isn't as good as we projected. I think questioning this stuff early in the season is fair, pretending like we know the answers is dangerous.
The Kings aren’t in must win territory, and I don’t want to come across as Mr. four game conclusion maker, but we’re allowed to talk about how the team is playing, and what they need to do early in the season in order to set them up for late season success, and a win tonight in Phoenix is important.
After tonight’s game, the Kings fly back to Sacramento to host a Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors back-to-back before the San Antonio Spurs fly in on November 7th. A loss against the Suns tonight doesn’t just put the Kings in a position to start the season off 1-7, it makes that the most likely scenario.
It all comes back to how you’re watching the Kings this season. If all you’re expecting is the team to clear Vegas’ projected 30.5 wins, than the Kings can start off 1-7 and get you the over on that without any issues, but if you’re one of the many who projected high-40’s and an eight seed, the Kings really need to find a win tonight, and 1-7 would be fairly devastating to the their playoff chances. It wouldn’t take them out of it, of course, but it’s just nowhere near how any playoff contender would want their campaign to start.