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Kings need more consistency to be true playoff contender in West

Kings need more consistency to be true playoff contender in West originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The Kings have made plenty of improvements to where it’s no longer a surprise to see them contending for an NBA playoff spot.

Problem is, just being mentioned in postseason conversations isn’t enough.

For Sacramento to be considered a legitimate contender, the Kings have to win an actual playoff series – something the franchise hasn’t accomplished since making it to the Western Conference semifinals in 2003-04.

It’s a task that isn’t going to get easier any time soon. The West is absolutely loaded this season. Consider that the Kings and Golden State Warriors finished this year with nearly identical records to what they had last year. But a year ago, the two teams squared off in the first-round of the playoffs as the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds. This season, the two squads tangled in the 9-10 NBA Play-In Tournament game.

“The West isn’t getting any easier,” Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said Friday after Sacramento's season came to an end with a play-in loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. “Obviously it’s a disappointment not being in the playoffs, not being one of those top eight teams, but we have something to build off of. You look forward going into next season.”

There’s plenty to clean up on, consistency being near the top of the list.

Sacramento only strung together more than two consecutive victories three times after the first month of the 2023-24 NBA season, and only one of the streaks lasted longer than three games in a row.

The Kings stumbled down the stretch and lost six of their final eight games during the regular season, the slide coinciding with the injury loss of key sixth man and possible free-agent-to-be Malik Monk.

Friday’s loss was also the Kings’ sixth in sixth games against New Orleans, and the Pelicans are one of the teams looming above Sacramento in the Western Conference.

The Kings got solid production from two of their biggest stars, Fox and Domantas Sabonis, but it wasn’t nearly enough to get Sacramento over the playoff hump.

“This obviously was a tough loss for us,” coach Mike Brown told reporters at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. “We know we could have played better, but it is what it is. They beat us. They earned it. But we’ll figure it out. We’ll be better next year.”

Even Brown acknowledged that climbing up through the ranks in the West won’t be easy.

“Just off the top of my head, I don’t know if I’ve seen a more competitive conference like this from top to bottom,” Brown said. “Literally, I think anybody can beat anybody on any given night.”

That’s where being more consistent in every phase will help the Kings take that next step.

At times, they played well in the loss to the Pelicans, but they had too many costly self-inflicted errors to overcome. Sacramento committed 15 turnovers that led to 17 points for New Orleans, and was outscored 58-44 in the paint despite the Pels being without their main force in the middle, Zion Williamson.

It was a basic microcosm of the entire season for Sacramento, which rode an up-and-down wave for most of the year.

So despite making back-to-back appearances in the postseason following an NBA-record 16-season drought, there’s obviously still work to do.

“No one’s happy with the way that we ended the season, but obviously there’s a lot more stability than there had been in the past,” Fox said. “But at the end of the day, as a team we have to get better.”