It’s been nearly four months since the Sacramento Kings played an NBA game. As the team gets ready for the NBA’s return in the Orlando bubble, head coach Luke Walton knows his squad isn’t the only one facing uncertainty.
“From the top-seeded teams that have had an amazing 60-game regular season so far, to the teams that are like us, who are trying to get into that playoff scenario,” Walton said on a Zoom media call Wednesday, “the challenge is going to be finding that rhythm again.”
The Kings are one of five teams chasing the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Sacramento goes into the restart 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies. Under the new format, the team in the ninth seed who also finishes within four games of Memphis will advance to the play-in round.
“For teams like us, and Phoenix, San Antonio, Portland, New Orleans, we have to find a way to create that chemistry, and be peaking from day one of the eight-game season,” Walton said. “That’s a completely different challenge.”
Walton had the Kings rolling prior to the March 11 shutdown. Sacramento won 13 out of its previous 20 games to get within striking distance of the final playoff spot. The run was easily the best of Sacramento’s season. With a more than three-month gap between team workouts, the head coach isn’t anticipating the momentum will continue in Orlando.
“It doesn’t carry over. I know we were playing well at the end of the season, but for every team, it’s starting over,” Walton said. “We’re further along, because now we know each other, but that continuity needs to be found again. “
The 40-year-old basketball lifer will have some tough decisions to make when it comes to the rotations. Former No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III is available to play, joining an already crowded front court. Walton found the right formula with Richaun Holmes and Nemanja Bjelica being the starters, while Harry Giles and Alex Len were solid contributors off the bench. In order for the Kings to end their 14-year postseason drought, Walton will have to figure things out in a hurry.
“You got a limited window, with a lot of distractions out there that are real,” Walton said. “I think whatever team can find their stride the quickest, and get back to playing how they were, out of [the five teams] that are fighting to get in, will have a big advantage.”