After dominating the Western Conference for the better part of five months, the Sacramento Kings have lost their way.
“We’ve won 52 games. We’ve got to find out how we did that,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “We have to find ourselves again.”
The suddenly struggling Kings will try to rediscover their winning touch and reclaim the best record in the West when they visit the Houston Rockets.
The Kings cruised into mid-March with a sparkling 48-16 mark, and appeared well on their way to the Pacific Divison title and top overall seed in the powerful West. However, the Kings have gone 4-7 since—a slide that coincided with the return of perennial All-Star power forward Chris Webber—to drop a half-game behind the streaking Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific.
Los Angeles has won 11 in a row to move a half-game in front of the Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves for the top overall record in the conference. With seven games remaining, Sacramento has more than enough time to retake its spot atop the West, but must also be concerned with regaining momentum heading into the postseason.
On Thursday, Sacramento was dominated from start to finish en route to a 127-117 loss to the Dallas Mavericks—the team that knocked the Kings out of last season’s playoffs.
The Kings are in the middle of a challenging three-game trip through Texas, and will play four of their final seven games away from Arco Arena, where they boast an impressive 32-6 mark.
Despite getting back Webber, Adelman is longing for the return of two other key performers currently sidelined with injuries.
Miller, suffering from bursitis in his right elbow, is expected to be out of action until next week. Jackson, who has missed 21 games with an abdominal strain, could be back in time for Wednesday’s matchup with the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
The Lakers will host the Spurs on Sunday, while the Timberwolves host Memphis.
The Rockets have lost three straight, leaving them seventh in the West. On Friday, Yao Ming had 23 points and 10 rebounds, but Houston was unable to keep pace with the Denver Nuggets, suffering a 110-100 loss, one night after a tough defeat against the red-hot Lakers in Los Angeles.
“There was not one thing we did well enough to win,” Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “That game had nothing to do with fatigue.”
STANDINGS (through April 2): Kings - 2nd place, 1/2 GB, Pacific Division. Rockets - 5th place, 10 GB, Midwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Kings - Stojakovic, 24.6 ppg; Miller, 10.4 rpg; Divac, 5.6 apg. Rockets - Yao, 17.7 ppg and 9.1 rpg; Francis, 6.1 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Kings, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: March 21; Kings, 100-95. At Sacramento, Stojakovic scored 29 points, but the Kings didn’t secure the win until Divac nailed his first 3-pointer of the season with 41 seconds to play. Taylor had 23 points for the Rockets, who dropped their 10th straight in Sacramanto.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Kings - 20-17 on the road; Rockets - 26-12 at home.