Kings look to handle Knicks before visiting East heavies
The hardest part about trying to end a 12-season postseason drought for the Sacramento Kings has been beating playoff-caliber opponents. On Saturday, the Kings will look to build some confidence before embarking upon their next opportunity to make statements against contenders.
The Kings will open a four-game Eastern Conference road swing Saturday afternoon when they visit the NBA-worst New York Knicks.
Both teams were off Thursday and Friday following losses Wednesday, when the host Kings fell to the Boston Celtics, 111-109 and the visiting Knicks dropped a 107-96 decision to the Phoenix Suns.
The loss Wednesday marked the sixth defeat in the last eight games for the Kings, who entered Friday four games behind the Los Angeles Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
The skid has been defined by near-misses against elite teams. While the Kings beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 119-116 on Feb. 23, they have suffered five losses to playoff-bound squads. Four of those defeats -- to the Celtics as well as the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks, the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets -- were by two or fewer points while the other one was a seven-point loss to the Clippers.
The losses have been frustrating and could eventually cost the Kings their first playoff berth since the 2005-06 campaign. But Sacramento is hopeful the lessons learned the last couple weeks will pay dividends down the road, if not this season.
After opening the trip against the lottery-bound Knicks and Washington Wizards, the Kings will get chances to climb over the hump against playoff teams when they visit the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers next Thursday and Friday.
"It's good that we're in a spot to make plays to win the game," Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein told reporters following the loss to the Celtics. "In the past, it was not like that. We're coming down to the last possessions and those are key possessions and we're executing, so it's learning. It's just a learning curve. Each game like this, you learn a little bit more, and that's really all you can ask for besides the win."
The Knicks long ago came to realize it was a lot to ask for a win on most nights. New York is 1 1/2 games "ahead" of the Suns in the race for the worst record in the NBA. The bottom three teams in the league will all have a 14-percent chance at winning the NBA Draft lottery, and with it the chance to draft Duke freshman Zion Williamson, on May 14.
Defense has been a particularly problematic issue for the Knicks, who entered Friday allowing the sixth-most points (114.2 points per game) in the NBA. New York has given up at least 100 points in seven straight games and in 42 of its last 44 contests dating back to Nov. 27.
"We have to figure out a way to be consistent," Knicks center DeAndre Jordan told reporters Wednesday night. "For 48 minutes, be locked in on defense and that effort and urgency. Offensively, shots aren't going to fall, you're going to have bad nights. But defensively, we can control that."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 8, 2019