Late last season, the Sacramento Kings entered the fourth quarter up 66-60 on the San Antonio Spurs. Going into the game, they knew they would be playing spoiler and that the Spurs would give them everything they could as the Spurs needed the win to get into the playoffs.
Playing spoiler was the motivation the Kings needed on April 9, 2018, and the only one they had at that time. The playoffs were long out of reach and the developmental season was almost in the books. They would hold the lead up until about the six-minute mark, when the veteran Spurs took over, eventually winning 98-85. De’Aaron Fox finished with 21 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds.
Following the Kings 127-112 win at home over the Spurs on Monday, Fox reflected on that game at the end of last season, remembering it as a great game with great intensity.
Monday’s game had a lot of intensity as well, but in a much different scenario.
The Spurs are currently 6th in the Western Conference and the Kings are .5 games out of the 8th seed, and it is Feb. 5.
The Kings? Playoffs? February? That isn’t something we have heard in over a decade.
The win over the Spurs was their third win in a row and the Kings now find themselves at 28-25, right behind the 29-25 Los Angeles Clippers and right ahead of the 27-26 Los Angeles Lakers. With multiple guys contributing, a style of play to lean on, a collective togetherness and positive player development occurring at the same time, this Kings team is right in the hunt. And even though most of the players will say they are taking it one game at a time, the truth is these guys are all in on the playoffs and have lasered in on that goal.
“It’s been a while since a Sacramento team has been able to play meaningful games this late in the season and it’s just great for us,” Fox said. “It’s helping us build more chemistry because every game matters now, everybody cares, everybody wants to be in the playoffs – from the guys that play 35 minutes to the guys that don’t play at all. Everybody wants that for each other.”
Buddy Hield, who is shooting lights out and has enhanced many aspects of his game this season, including defense, passing and rebounding, threw the clichés about one game at a time out the window when asked about the playoffs.
“Every day we hope who is in front of us loses. We’re a young team, you think we want to go home in April? I don’t want to go home in April,” he said. “This is my third year in the league and it sucks trying to plan a long summer ahead of you. I’m trying to get into the playoffs and taste that, that’s my long-time dream.”
The three wins in a row have vaulted the team to three games over .500 and that is something Hield knows goes a long way for the team’s mentality.
“It can get dark, or it can get really light here. Give a sense of hope. You go under .500 and teams tend to fall into that trap of, oh, we’re not good enough … we’re a few mental mistakes away from being that team we need to be,” Hield said. “We’re guarding, we’re defending, we’re having fun, we’re happy for each other’s success and that’s the biggest thing, to be happy for success on the court.”
Hield would go on to say that everyone believes in each other, and included general manager Vlade Divac in that statement for putting this team together.
“It’s a fun group of guys, man, and nobody expected us,” he said.
It is always wise to talk about the playoffs with caution, especially early in the season, but as we approach the All-Star break, the pivotal point in this year’s campaign is approaching. Fox knows it won’t be easy.
“We’ve dropped games that we probably shouldn’t have dropped earlier in the season and we know we have to make up for them. Doing it in the Western Conference is extremely tough, but we’re coming out to win every single game and we know we have to. We’re trying to make the playoffs, there’s a bigger goal than just the game that’s in front of us,” Fox said.
That game in front of them is on Wednesday against the 31-22 Houston Rockets.