The Sacramento Kings found themselves in the unfamiliar territory following a 120-80 thumping of the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. The win put the Kings into the postseason for the first time in 16 years.
The playoffs is an achievement in and of itself, considering George W. Bush was still in office the last time the Kings were in the playoffs. However, the team isn’t satisfied just to make it there; they look to do some damage.
Kings forward Harrison Barnes indicated that clinching at home would have been nice and is somewhat of a letdown, and he praised the home fans for their support. Coach Mike Brown said the team wanted to give the deserving fans so much more, and the team expects more moving forward as well.
The playoff drought of 16 years was the longest of any professional team in the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL combined. The Kings won 44 games in 2005-06, making the playoffs as a number eight seed. They lost in six games to the San Antonio Spurs.
Since that time, the Kings have been the laughingstock of the NBA, recording 15 straight losing seasons and winning under 30 games seven straight years from 2008 to 2015. Part of the reason for the lack of success was unfathomably poor draft picks, passing on the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and Trae Young.
The turnaround came last season after the Kings acquired Domantas Sabonis in a trade for Tyrese Haliburton. At the time, the move was questionable at best, but both teams have benefitted from the deal. The addition of Sabonis, to go along with point guard D’Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes, Kevin Huerter, and draft pick Keegan Murray has vaulted Sacramento to a 46-30 record, including 23-14 on the road. That is good enough for first in the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference.
The beginning of the season looked just like the Kings of old, opening with four consecutive losses. They started making believers out of people, not only in Sacramento but around the league, when they entered 2023 with a 19-15 record.
Making the playoffs didn’t just affect the players, but longtime employees have become emotional thinking about being back in the postseason. Those that couldn’t hide their emotions included equipment manager Miguel Lopez, and chief operating officer Matina Kolokoronis, according to ESPN.
The Kings will likely finish with the third seed in the conference, with a home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. This will be the first time since May 5, 2006, that the Kings will host a playoff game. Potential first-round opponents include the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, or Minnesota Timberwolves, although other teams are still in the mix.
Sacramento could rest some of their starters should it become mathematically impossible for them to catch the Memphis Grizzlies for the number two seed in the conference. The Kings are currently two games out with six to play.
As the Sacramento Kings end their playoff drought, the New Orleans team faces a tough road to the playoffs without Zion Williamson.