On Wednesday night, after losing star rookie Marvin Bagley to a knee injury, the Sacramento Kings rallied hard against the Milwaukee Bucks and took a late game lead with a chance to win the game, but ultimately lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the best team in basketball. That defeat was not only discouraging in and of itself, it also dropped the Kings two games out of the 8th seed in the Western Conference. With 21 games remaining in the season, Sacramento has every chance to snag that final playoff spot, but they will need to take care of five key games going forward.
(Yes, I know these games are not listed chronologically, but they are listed in order of importance)
March 31st, San Antonio Spurs
If there is one team that Kings fans should be rooting against going forward, it’s the Spurs. Despite sporting two All-Stars and one of the greatest coaches of all time, San Antonio has struggled mightily as of late, dropping 7 of their last 9 games, including a recent loss to the lowly New York Knicks. Those poor performances have landed the Spurs smack dab in the middle of the race for the final playoff spot, as they are currently tied for 7th place in the Western Conference and hold a two game lead over the 9th seeded Kings.
Not only is San Antonio sliding down the standings faster than a water-soaked hot dog slipping down Joey Chestnut’s gullet, they’re also the only team in which Sacramento holds the advantage in a tie-breaker situation. If the two squads end the season with an identical record, the Kings would vault over the Spurs for their first postseason appearance in over a decade. Unfortunately, Sacramento will be flying into San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back, while the Spurs will have been resting for two days. If the Kings can overcome their fatigue and pick up a win while adding a loss to San Antonio’s record, that victory could very well be viewed as a turning point in the playoff race.
March 1st, Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are the other team currently occupying the 7th spot in the West, the exact same position Kings players have publicly stated they’re shooting for come April. The unfortunate news is that Los Angeles’ best team has owned Sacramento up until this point in the year, winning their three matches by a combined 35 points. Buddy Hield, the Kings’ most important scorer, has particularly struggled in those games, shooting just 14/48 (29%) from the field and 2/20 (10%) from three-point range.
A victory over their Southern California rival wouldn’t just be a boost to the Kings confidence moving forward, it would grant them a full game leap in the standings. Sacramento will enjoy the third-easiest remaining schedule to end the season, meaning every win over a tough team grants them breathing room going forward. Similar to their late March matchup with the Spurs, a victory over the Clippers could be critical in the next six weeks.
April 5th, Utah Jazz
In a bit of bad scheduling luck, Sacramento will be facing Utah on the second night of a back-to-back in April, while the Jazz will have a full day of rested legs backing them. A loss in Salt Lake City would have several consequences for the Kings, some minor and some quite severe. The Kings have gone 1-2 against the Jazz this year, so a defeat would cause them to surrender the tie-breaker to Utah, while a win would allow that decision to be made by conference record. A victory would also grant the Kings a full game jump in the standings, an important gain as the Jazz are 3.5 games up in the standings.
This contest will also take place at a crucial time for the Kings, as they will most likely be embroiled in a tight playoff race that will come down to the wire, and this game takes place with just three games remaining in the season. A win could seal the playoff fate for Sacramento, while a failure in Utah could nail their postseason hopes shut.
March 24th, Los Angeles Lakers
Let’s be honest, every single game against the Lakers is important because the Lakers are the worst thing to happen to mankind since the dawn of time. As should always be the case, a matchup with Los Angeles will have a significant impact on both teams’ playoff dreams. De’Aaron Fox and the Kings hold just a one game lead over the LeBron’s, so a win could allow Sacramento to use the Lakers’ loss as a springboard to the 8th seed, while pushing their evil rivals out of contention. Following the common theme of almost every key game, the Kings will be flying into enemy territory on the second night of a back-to-back, while the Lakers will have had the previous night to rest and recover at home.
April 10th, Portland Trail Blazers
There is no doubt that the Blazers will make the playoffs as they are presently the fourth seed in the Western Conference, sitting just one game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for third place. The upcoming battle with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic is meaningful because it is the last game of the season for the Kings. They will have just come off of a stretch in which they play the Rockets twice, Spurs, and Jazz in a one week period, so a win on the final night of the season may be needed to slip into the final postseason slot. There’s a chance that Portland is resting their starters for their upcoming playoff run, but they could be fighting for seeding with Oklahoma City as well, so the Kings will need to be fully prepared to bring their all against a stacked Western Conference opponent. Breaking the twelve year playoff drought may very well come down to 48 minutes of basketball in Portland.
Each remaining game in Sacramento’s schedule is meaningful, but the coming clashes with the Spurs, Clippers, Jazz, Lakers, and Trail Blazers will likely determine if Kings fans will get to assemble for the first playoff game in Golden 1 Center history, or if they will once again be left to find a new favorite to support come April, May, and June.