They already gave away the Western Conference lead. Now the Sacramento Kings are in danger of losing a spot atop the Pacific Division.
First place in the Pacific will be on the line when the Kings and Los Angeles Lakers meet for the final time during the regular season.
The Kings led the West for much of the season, but fell out of first place after failing to hold an 11-point lead in the second half and losing 94-86 to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.
Sacramento followed that loss by falling 101-96 in Phoenix on Friday while Los Angeles was beating Memphis 103-95. That left the rivals tied for the division lead and part of a three-way tie with San Antonio for second place in the West.
While the winner of Sunday’s game will have the inside track on the second seed, the loser could fall all the way to fourth and face a difficult first-round series against Dallas or Memphis.
That is why the Kings know they must break out of their slump. They have lost six of nine, and are just 17-12 since the All-Star break.
“There’s a lot on every game, so we just have to win and try to sew up the season the best we can,” Sacramento forward Chris Webber said.
The Kings are just 10-10 since Webber returned from injury and suspension. They hope to have the services of key reserve Bobby Jackson, who returned Thursday from a stint on the injured list because of an abdominal strain but missed Friday’s game because of soreness.
The Lakers seemed headed for a third straight loss before rallying from a 19-point deficit in their victory over the Grizzlies. Kobe Bryant scored 33 points and Shaquille O’Neal added 28 points and 12 rebounds.
Sacramento won the first two meetings, but didn’t have to face the entire Los Angeles foursome of O’Neal, Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton until the third matchup. The Lakers dominated that March 24 game, shooting 51.6 percent, outscoring the Kings 60-30 in the paint, outrebounding them 55-33, and winning 115-91.
That game exposed what has been a dismal interior defense for the Kings down the stretch. Sacramento has been outscored in the paint in 14 of its last 15 games and 29 of 33.
Lakers starting forward Rick Fox left Friday’s game in the first quarter with a dislocated right thumb and did not return. His status for Sunday’s game is not known.