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The NBA's longest active playoff drought reached historic lengths Thursday.
The Sacramento Kings needed a win and help to keep their slim play-in hopes alive. The San Antonio Spurs obliged by losing earlier in the night, but Sacramento couldn't capitalize and lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 116-110. The Kings were officially eliminated from contention, extending their postseason drought to 15 years. It matches the Los Angles Clippers from 1977-91 for the longest playoff drought in NBA history.
"They scrapped. They fought. They competed and it was fun," said Kings coach Luke Walton. "It was a fun game. Unfortunately, we made a few too many mistakes down the stretch. They made us pay. ... Really proud of the guys. There was great energy. Great fight."
The Kings played without four key rotation players, including leading scorer De'Aaron Fox, who missed his 11th straight game in the league's health and safety protocols.
In search of a spark, unheralded second-year guard Justin James scored a career-high 31 points off the bench for the Kings. James' previous career-high was 16 points, and he had scored in double figures just four times in 70 appearances."I would be lying if I said this doesn't feel different than any other loss," James said. "Knowing that we're out of the playoffs, it sucks for our fans, it sucks for our city, but we'll be there one day."
The Kings have not made the playoffs since 2005-06, the last season of Rick Adelman's tenure. They went 44-38 behind Mike Bibby and Brad Miller and lost 4-2 in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs. Sacramento hasn't had a winning record since then either, never topping more than 38 wins.
The Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks had the next longest playoff droughts at 10 and eight years, respectively, but both have clinched spots in this year's postseason. That leaves the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls tied for the second-longest active drought at four years.
Here are four more things to know today in the NBA:
Blazers' chance to clinch slips away
The Portland Trail Blazers cooled off Thursday and missed a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a 118-117 loss to the Phoenix Suns. Damian Lillard scored 41 points for Portland, but Devin Booker hit a pair of free throws with 2.4 seconds left to win it for Phoenix. The Blazers slipped to sixth in the Western Conference, a half-game behind the Dallas Mavericks and a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers. They can still clinch a top-six spot with a win in the final game, but Thursday's loss keeps the door open for the Lakers to pass the Blazers.
"The last game of the season is now the most important game of the season," Lillard said. "We've got to move on and make sure we handle our business at home."
Sixers can't lock up top seed
The Philadelphia 76ers never recovered from the Miami Heat's opening punch Thursday and failed to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 106-94 loss. The Heat led 38-22 after the first quarter and didn't trail the rest of the way. The Sixers held on to first place in the East, but their lead on the Brooklyn Nets is down to just one game. They still have the inside track to the top seed with two games left, both against the stumbling Orlando Magic, but Sixers coach Doc Rivers was still concerned by their lack or urgency to open the game.
"I just didn't think we were ready to play the game tonight," Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. "You saw it early, everything hurt us. Their man hurt us, their zone hurt us, our defense hurt us. I don't think they dipped below 50% shooting the entire night. They got everything they wanted. They moved faster, they ran harder. South Beach is very tough."
Race to the bottom
While the focus of the NBA world remains on the playoff race, the teams outside the postseason picture are in a race to the bottom of the standings and the best odds for the upcoming draft lottery. The odds have flattened in recent years, but the teams with three worst records will each have a 14% chance of winning the No. 1 pick. The fourth-worst team has a 12.5% chance at the top pick, and the fifth-worst has a 10.5% chance.
Entering the final weekend of the regular season, the Houston Rockets have clinched the worst record in the league at 16-54. The Detroit Pistons are 20-50, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic at 21-49. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers are 22-48. The lottery will be held June 22, with the draft July 29.
Game of the night: Raptors at Mavericks
The Mavericks enter Friday fifth in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of the Blazers and one game in front of the Lakers. A win over the Raptors clinches a playoff spot and makes things just a little harder for the Lakers to avoid the play-in tournament. A loss makes the standings even tighter and leaves it open for the Mavericks to finish fifth, sixth or seventh.
Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kings miss out on another NBA playoff run as drought reaches 15 seasons