Hello, Optimism. We Meet Again.
Here we go again.
Let’s see if you can solve this one:
“I’ve been hurt before…”
Hmmm… Things you hear from both fans of the Sacramento Kings and the main character in a sappy romantic comedy?
Ding, ding! Correct!
It’s that time of the year. It’s that dreaded time of the year when the one thing Kings fans fear most creeps back into their brains after a strong stretch of play:
It’s hard to not be excited about the Sacramento Kings right now.
For the first time in over two years, the team has won five-straight games and seven of their last eight to fully insert themselves back into the thick of the Western Conference Playoff race.
The trade deadline came and went with no key contributors departing, as Harrison Barnes, Buddy Hield and Richaun Holmes stayed put.
New general manager Monte McNair described his moves during the deadline–acquiring guards Delon Wright and Terence Davis alongside forwards Maurice Harkless and Chris Silva–as “value moves” that could help the team not only this season, but in future seasons to come.
During Sacramento’s dreadful nine-game losing streak earlier this season, the most notable problem (besides the defense, of course) was that the team lacked depth.
Besides rookie guard Tyrese Haliburton, there was no other clear positive influence off of the Kings bench.
Fast forward to Monday night, Sacramento’s depth very well could have acted as the difference in an impressive win over San Antonio.
Davis came up huge in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points to help keep Sacramento ahead while De’Aaron Fox was off of the floor.
Wright was quiet offensively, but finished with four rebounds, five assists and a steal while acting as the floor general of the second unit.
Harkless scored a season-high 13 points on three-of-four shooting from deep, showing shades of the player that Kings fans might recall played so well for those 2015-19 Portland Trail Blazers teams.
Depth, a weakness for Sacramento all season long, could all of the sudden be one of the team’s greater strengths.
When you look at Monday night’s bench production, you can’t help but wonder if putting serviceable talent behind the starting lineup sooner is what could have been holding this team back from success earlier in the season.
I say that because the starting lineup of De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes has been just incredible.
Since forward Marvin Bagley III went down with a hand injury and Haliburton was moved into the starting five, Sacramento holds a 7-1 record over eight games.
How can you not be excited when you see some of the things that this lineup is doing on a nightly basis?
- De’Aaron Fox, who was named Western Conference Player of the Week for the second time this season, has been posting some god-like numbers during the winning streak, averaging 30.5 points, 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals over his last eight games.
- Richaun Holmes, who has sent the Kings fanbase into full on panic mode due to his impending free-agency, has been playing like a top-five center in the league while leading the NBA in field goal percentage. Holmes is quickly becoming on of the Sacramento era’s favorite players of all time with his unquestionable effort and incredible family support.
- Buddy Hield is leading the NBA in made three-point field goals, having knocked down 188 over just 47 games. Hield has turned it on as of late, averaging 18.0 points per game on 44-percent shooting from downtown over his last seven contests.
- Tyrese Haliburton has taken the NBA by storm, with the rookie posting his second-career double-double on Monday after posting 15 points and 10 assists. The rookie is shooting a blistering 42-percent from the three-point line while playing impressive defense, ensuring himself as a finalist for the Rookie of the Year Award.
- Harrison Barnes is continuing to show why McNair valued the veteran forward so much, with his strong leadership, solid numbers and his useful experience. Barnes has been a part of budding playoff runs before, being with Golden State from 2012-16. Barnes’ ability to come through late has also been a massive strength for the Kings.
With the starting lineup firing on all cylinders and the bench boasting some solid depth, some Kings fans are excited.
Some are afraid.
We have been here before.
Most recently, the past two seasons have given fans enough strong play to ask the “What if?” question.
In 2018-19, Sacramento had its best start to a season since the playoff drought began. It seemed like they were finally headed towards the postseason after holding a 30-26 record in mid-February.
Of course, that is not what would happen, as we all know. The Kings would end the season 9-17 to extend the playoff drought.
Even one season ago in 2019-20, Sacramento made a similar run in the closing weeks of the season to put themselves just three games back of the eighth seed spot with 18 games remaining.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened. The world as we knew it was changed, with sports taking a backseat for over four months.
Once play resumed in the NBA bubble, the same Kings team that had rattled off wins in 11 of 15 games before the shutdown was nowhere to be seen. After losing five of eight bubble seeding games, the playoff drought continued.
So, where does that leave us for this season?
With 25 games remaining in the season, Sacramento trails the eight-seed spot by 2.5 games.
Although, in this vastly different and unprecedented times, there is a catch in this year’s playoff seeding. The Kings don’t need to be the eighth seed to play in games after the conclusion of this season.
They only need to finish ninth.
Or even tenth.
The Kings are in a solid position to finish within the top-10 in the Western Conference, placing them in the “Play-In” series that will take place this May.
All things considered, the fact that the Kings are even in discussions for playing postseason basketball during a season that they encountered a nine-game losing streak is almost unbelievable.
The fact that McNair decided to add to the roster instead of sell shows the faith that this front office has in the current roster.
When it comes to retaining players like Richaun Holmes, who will be able to choose his next destination this summer, winning games and playing meaningful basketball at the end of the season could be just what it takes to show the center, “Hey, we are close and we want you to be here for when we take it to the next level.”
Sacramento is playing fun, entertaining, and most importantly, winning basketball.
This team could have what it takes to go on a real run in the closing months of the season. There’s also the possibility that like the last 15 seasons, they fall short.
But when it comes down to it, here are the facts:
- The trade deadline is over. The roster is set.
- Fox and Haliburton are showcasing their potential as a backcourt of the future.
- Marvin Bagley III could return in the next three weeks and provide a solid boost off of the bench with the second unit.
- Winning basketball games is fun.
If the Kings lose the next five in a row, so be it. One thing that people seem to forget time and time again is this:
We have no control over what happens on the floor.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the recent stretch of play. The wins and losses will come regardless.
I’ve always said that the Sacramento Kings will end their playoff drought when we least expect it.
Why not now?