Kings don't have time to lick wounds from loss with Suns on horizon

Kings don't have time to lick wounds from loss with Suns on horizon originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SACRAMENTO – The Kings are stumbling at the absolute worst time of the season, but they don’t have time to feel sorry for themselves or lick their wounds.

With the Phoenix Suns coming to Golden 1 Center for another pivotal game on Friday, time no longer is on Sacramento’s side.

The Kings got handled fairly easily by the New Orleans Pelicans in a 135-123 defeat on Thursday at G1C, losing for the fourth time in five games and dropping into a three-way tie with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth spot in the very crowded Western Conference.

It sets up for what should be a wild and wacky next few days.

The Kings still could sneak into the No. 7 spot, especially if they can beat the Suns and gain the tiebreaker between the two teams. They also hold a tiebreaker advantage over both the Warriors and Lakers.

It’s also conceivable that if Sacramento doesn’t get things turned around quickly, it could drop all the way to the final play-in spot.

Whatever margin for error that is left for the Kings is razor thin at best.

“We know the significance,” Keegan Murray said. “We know it’s a tight race, and when you play meaningful regular season games, you have to step up to the plate. I just feel like we have to throw this one out the window because tomorrow’s a big game against Phoenix.”

Friday evening’s game against the Suns very well might be the Kings’ biggest of the 2023-24 NBA season.

Finishing as either the No. 7 or No. 8 seed allows coach Mike Brown’s team the opportunity to lose a play-in game and still have another shot at getting into the playoffs. With the Nos. 9 and 10 teams, one loss and the season is over.

The Kings clearly know what’s at stake.

“You’re 9-10, you wake up that day and you just have a bad day, you’re done,” De'Aaron Fox said. “At least when you’re 7-8, you technically have the opportunity to have a bad first game. Obviously you don’t want to do that. But having two opportunities is much better than basically having one and then you have to win that and then you have to win another game.

“So it’s much easier to go 1-1 than it is to go 2-0 at a time like this.”

Sacramento only has to look in the mirror to see why the season has come down to this.

The day before leaving for their final road trip of the season, the Kings held a slight advantage for the No. 8 spot and were two games up on the Lakers in the loss column.

In a very short span, however, the standings really got jumbled up.

The Kings lost three of their next four games after blowing multiple big leads on the road trip, then came home and got handled by the Pelicans.

Sacramento will learn its fate within the next 72 hours. After hosting the Suns, the Kings play the lowly Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday afternoon in the regular-season finale.

Brown is embracing the challenge that his team faces and encouraged Sacramento’s players to do the same thing.

“I go home and I bang my head against the wall just like everybody else in that locker room on these losses,” Brown said. “But man, maybe the last 10 games or so, maybe a little longer, every time we step on the floor it's been an expectation of trying to get a win.

“One win can move you up three spots, one loss can drop you down three spots. For all of us to be able to go through this, especially right now in our second year with the team that we have … is an invaluable learning experience. I hope we come out on top, but for us to have to fight for that play-in spot and realize how good it will be good to play at home in that first game, knowing that you’ve got two shots at it, I’m excited about it.

“If we could have finished in sixth, I wanted that more than anything else, or fifth, but at the end of the day this is where we are. Let’s freaking go get it and let’s learn and grow from it and see what happens. There’s no question that that’s what we all would all prefer and what we’re trying to get to. But we have to go get it done on the court. It’s as simple as that.”