The Sacramento Kings enter the second half of their season with a really strong chance at ending their 16-season playoff drought.
And with just 25 games left, here are four important factors that will help solidify their chance of securing a top-six seed, which would make them a guaranteed playoff team in the west and allow them to avoid the play-in tournament.
Avoid debilitating injuries
This one is self-explanatory, but the Kings had great injury luck in the first half of this season. The team’s two franchise pillars, De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, have missed only seven games combined.
For a brief moment, it seemed that Sabonis would be sidelined for an extended period after fracturing his thumb in late December. Eventually, Sabonis decided he would gut out the injury, which was ultimately huge for the Kings.
Sacramento has proven it can withstand a few games without one of Fox or Sabonis, but when it comes down to it, the Kings need those two guys in the lineup.
Even outside of Fox and Sabonis, Sacramento has not had to endure long stretches where they were without key rotation guys. Aside from the two stars, Sacramento can ill afford to lose wings, so Harrison Barnes or Keegan Murray can’t go down for any long stretch of time. Behind Murray and Barnes, Sacramento has no starting quality forwards.
If the Kings continue to stay mostly injury free, it bodes well for their ability to win important games down the stretch.
Avoid longer than 3-game losing streaks
The Kings have one of the toughest second-half schedules in all of basketball, according to multiple metrics.
Sacramento has seven games remaining against the five teams currently considered favorites to win The NBA Finals (Suns, Clippers, Celtics, Bucks, Nuggets.)
You never know what will happen with opposing team’s injuries, but these games project to be brutal.
So far this season, Sacramento has done a good job of not letting losing streaks snowball into more than a few games. With how bunched up the conference is, a five or six-game losing streak could put the Kings in jeopardy of falling to the play-in.
Luckily, Sacramento has built a decent cushion between themselves and the No. 7 seed, which would put them in the play-in tournament.
If the Kings can win three or even just two games against these elite teams, and avoid any bigtime slides, then they are in pretty good shape to keep playing in April.
Have your stars continue to play like stars
Coming off All-Star appearances, Sacramento needs Fox and Sabonis to continue what earned them that honor.
Luckily for Sacramento, its two stars have been rock solid this season. Even when Fox struggled a bit from the end of November to mid-December, Sabonis played some of his best ball of the season. Conversely, toward the end of the first half, when Sabonis had a few iffy games, Fox picked up the offensive load.
Fox has proven he can go to bucket-for-bucket with some of the best players in the NBA down the stretch of games.
It’s pretty self-explanatory, but if Fox and Sabonis continue to produce at a high level, then there is good reason to believe the Kings will be in the playoffs come this spring.
Get more consistent production from the backup point guard, and center positions
All season, Mike Brown has been shuffling guys in and out of the backup center spot and just hasn’t really settled on a permanent backup center.
Recently though, Trey Lyles has given the Kings productive minutes, with his shooting and overall consistent play.
At backup point guard, the Kings haven’t tried as many solutions, but nonetheless, the results — especially recently — have not been good.
Davion Mitchell always brings it on defense, but in most games, he is a liability on the offensive end.
To be a productive NBA guard, you need to be able to either break down the defense and finish at the rim or knock down the three-ball. Mitchell is doing neither right now.
Unfortunately, Sacramento doesn’t really have better options behind Mitchell at that spot, so ultimately they just need him to get out of his offensive slump.
For the Kings to persevere through their demanding end-of-the-season schedule, at least one of these two spots needs to be more consistent.