Kings, Mavs prepare for ‘mini playoff series' with sky-high stakes

Kings, Mavs prepare for ‘mini playoff series' with sky-high stakes originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SACRAMENTO – The NBA playoffs still are three weeks away, but this week’s matchups between the Kings and Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday and Friday night will bring an early postseason-like atmosphere to Golden 1 Center.

And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

With both teams carrying a 42-29 record into Tuesday’s game, the first of a two-game set between the two teams, the regular-season March matchup will have huge playoff implications as the No. 6 seed, aka the final spot to avoid the NBA Play-In Tournament, is up for grabs.

“They're ready. We're ready. It's going to be like a mini playoff series,” center Domantas Sabonis said on NBC Sports California’s “Kings Postgame Live” after Monday's game. “It's important for the standings. We're all fighting for that sixth, fifth seed. It's going to be a battle.”

Sabonis’ comments came just moments after he made history in Sacramento’s 108-96 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, setting the record for the longest double-double streak since the NBA/ABA merger.

His mindset wasn’t on celebrating, but rather on what’s next.

“We got to forget about today,” Sabonis said postgame. “I got to get healthy and be ready for tomorrow. We need the tiebreaker against them. We play them in back-to-back sets and at home, you know, so it's kind of a playoff series.

“And we got to come locked in, like we have in these last couple games.”

Sacramento won the previous two contests against Dallas, so the Kings currently hold the sixth spot over the Mavericks. If the Kings secure a win Tuesday, they would clinch the tiebreaker.

The Mavericks have some work to do, however, but it’s not far out of reach. Dallas has won four in a row and eight of its last nine games, and the team must win both games to catch Sacramento in a conference tiebreaker.

Kings coach Mike Brown said the Kings already have been game-planning for the pivotal pair of games.

"We've already been working on it. The preparation has already started," Brown said Monday. "We all know it's important. It's one of the things I said in the locker room. If we can find a way to get this win, obviously we'll have the tiebreaker, which is really important.

"Tomorrow is a big game for us. And I think everybody knows it. Dallas knows it too. It's a big game for them. So it should be fun."

Both teams are playing high-quality basketball and ready to do whatever it takes to avoid the do-or-die play-in tournament.

The Mavericks are riding the backs of their star-studded duo in Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving. Dončić leads the NBA in scoring with 34 points per game, while ranking third in assists at 9.9 per contest.

Meanwhile, Irving has kept things exciting since knocking down a crafty left-handed game-winner against the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets last week. He's averaging 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 49 games this season.

Sacramento has its own dominant duo, too.

Sabonis leads the NBA in triple-doubles (25), double-doubles (67) and rebounds (13.7 per game) this season. He has been an integral part of Sacramento's newfound success.

Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox, too, is continuing to improve in different areas after coming off a career-year last season. Fox is averaging 26.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 63 games this season.

Both the Kings and the Mavericks are coming off a back-to-back, with the Mavericks making the quick turnaround from Utah to Sacramento after defeating the Jazz 115-105 on Monday.

Kings guard Davion Mitchell said Monday night that the two games "100 percent" will feel like playoff basketball, but he feels confident in Sacramento's preparation.

"I think tomorrow, we got to come out with energy," Mitchell said. "I think the past back-to-backs, we didn't come out with energy and kind of tried to play catchup to the end of the game, and we failed. And I think tomorrow we need to come out with energy like we did tonight. Punch them in the mouth and go from there."

Mavericks center P.J. Washington is excited for the challenge and looking forward to the high-intensity matchup.

"I'm excited," Washington said (h/t Sports Illustrated). "I can't wait to go out there and play them. And I feel like everybody else is excited. We all know what's at stake. It's going to be a real exciting two games."