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The Playoff Push Is On

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Twelve seasons. Twelve long, painful seasons.

Its been almost 13 years since NBA Playoff basketball has tipped off in Sacramento. That is the motivating factor driving this Sacramento Kings team as they kick off the final stretch of the season, sitting right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. In a season full of surprises, the Kings will begin play on Thursday with a 30-27 record, sitting just one game back of the eighth seeded Los Angeles Clippers.

The Kings were not supposed to be here.

Winning more than 24 games would of been “surprising”. Talk around the league, to put it lightly, was not positive when referring to Sacramento. De’Aaron Fox couldn’t shoot the ball at an efficient clip. Vlade Divac did not know how to run an NBA team. Buddy Hield was nothing more than a three-point specialist, even referred to as the next Nik Stauskas.

And here they are.

De’Aaron Fox is playing like a top-ten point guard, Buddy Hield is a Most Improved Player candidate, and Divac has built a team that can legitimately compete every night. After swinging deadline trades to acquire former champion Harrison Barnes and proven scorer Alec Burks, this team has officially gone all in on ending the longest postseason drought in the NBA. It’s unfamiliar territory for Sacramento, as they have 30 wins in February for the first time since the 2004-05 season when they finished with a 50-32 record.

It wont be easy for the Kings, as they are chasing another surprise team in the Los Angeles Clippers. Having just trading away their best player Tobias Harris to the 76ers, the Clippers were expected to wave the white flag and fall out of the playoff race. That has not happened, as Doc Rivers and co. have made it clear they will not go quietly, playing .500 basketball since the trade.

While Sacramento chases the Clippers, they will also have to fend off the other team in Los Angeles: the LeBron James led Lakers. The Lakers have had a rocky season, as they hold a disappointing 28-29 record coming out of the break. It is the first time James has been on a team with a losing record at least 40 games into a season since his rookie year.

If there is one thing all NBA fans know, it is that LeBron James is dangerous near playoff time, and the Kings will need to continue their hot streak with James in the rear view mirror. Sacramento has a tough stretch coming out of the break, facing five teams with a combined record of 180-107, including the top teams in the East (Milwaukee) and West (Golden State).

It’s going to be tough for the Kings, but with the 18th most difficult strength of schedule versus the Lakers 9th, they are in good position if they can beat the teams that they should beat. The Clippers, boasting the 25th ranked strength of schedule, are in good position with the easiest remaining schedule of the three teams. This makes the upcoming showdown with the Kings on March 1st that much more important, as Sacramento will look to gain ground in a pivotal point of the season before their schedule opens up.

Eighth seeded teams in the Western Conference of the past ten years have won an average of 44.8 games, meaning Sacramento will need to aim for at least 44 wins. With 25 games to go and a schedule that will open up against teams below .500 and more home games, a 14-11 finish is within reach. To keep track of the Kings playoff scenarios and the teams they are chasing, check out this Sacramento Kings playoff tracker from Sactown Royalty.

While most Kings fans have their eyes on that eighth seed, its also noteworthy how close Sacramento is to the higher seeded teams. As of Thursday, February 21, the Kings sit just two games back of the seventh seeded San Antonio Spurs and sixth seeded Utah Jazz, while they trail the fifth seeded Rockets by only three games.

Coming Up

Having won five of their past seven games, the Kings will begin the unofficial second half of the season with a showdown in Oakland against old friend DeMarcus Cousins and the Golden State Warriors. The Kings, who have lost all three contests against the Warriors this season, have lost the three games by a combined 10 points.

The playoff push is upon us, and every game is incredibly meaningful. That’s right. Meaningful Sacramento Kings basketball as the season heads towards March.

Are you ready?