De'Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings defends Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 26 in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of WagerTalk)

CRAWFORD ON THE COURT: It’s time for a playoff push

This is the third of four updates on the Kings throughout the 2018-19 season.

With only 20 games remaining, the Sacramento Kings have their eyes on the playoffs, a feat Kings teams haven’t accomplished for 12 years.

The door has opened for Sacramento to sneak into the playoffs. After trading star Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Clippers seem to have shifted their focus to upcoming free agency when they will have enough salary cap space for two max players. However, they continue to win, so they may still make the postseason.

At least for the moment, the Clippers seem to be the better team at Staples Center, as the Los Angeles Lakers are reeling from LeBron James’ groin injury and the Anthony Davis fiasco. The Lakers are on the outside looking in and will be come late April if they don’t come together quickly and stay healthy.

In Sactown, on the other hand, the Kings made trade-deadline moves for Harrison Barnes from the Dallas Mavericks and Alec Burks from the Cleveland Cavaliers, among others.

Before the season, ESPN released its Summer Forecast. The Kings were projected to finish last in the Western Conference at 24-58. The description states, “ … Maybe Marvin Bagley III and De’Aaron Fox will lead the Kings back to relevance and improve the team’s reputation of being dysfunctional, but likely not this year.”

Well, Tim MacMahon nailed it. Sort of.

Bagley and Fox are leading the Kings back to relevance and are improving the team’s reputation of being dysfunctional — this year.

With a record of 31-31, not only have the Kings surpassed predictions, they matched last season’s win total (27) by the All-Star break. Not to mention, they sit ninth, not 15th, in the West.

The Kings answered the call for better performance on their home floor. After starting 10-10, they won nine of the next 10 at Golden 1 Center, including wins against the Portland Trail Blazers,  San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers, all playoff bound.

Now that the goal is to make the playoffs, every game is valuable. But during a four-game road trip in February, the Kings suffered devastating two-point losses to the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets.

Next, Sacramento defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, which had won in double overtime the night before, 119-116 on Feb. 23. Nonetheless, it was a great victory for the young squad against an elite opponent on the road.

Despite going 1-3 on the trip, including a bad loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Kings showed competitiveness with top teams. In fact, the Kings would love to meet the Warriors in the first round after losing all four meetings by 12 points combined.

In addition, Sacramento came up short, 141-140 in overtime, at home to the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 27. The biggest loss of the night, however, was Bagley. During the third quarter, he suffered a left knee sprain and will be re-evaluated in one to two weeks, per

Bagley  had averaged 21.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in his last five games, even making his first NBA start. Hopefully, the 19-year-old can get back on the court soon, but this is the same knee that he injured earlier in the season, causing him to miss 11 games from Dec. 15 to Jan. 7.

Just two days later, Sacramento fell to the visiting Clippers in a game with huge playoff implications. The 116-109 loss makes the Kings 1-5 in the last six games and 0-4 against the Clippers this season. However, it doesn’t mean the end of playoff hopes.

If the Kings want to make the playoffs, they will probably have to reach 44 wins. Also, it is unlikely that the Clippers (36-29), now 3 1/2 games ahead, or the San Antonio Spurs (35-29), who have made the postseason for 21 straight seasons under coach Gregg Popovich, will fall out of the top eight. That being said, Sacramento will have to knock them out to earn a playoff berth. Moreover, Sacramento owns the tiebreaker over San Antonio, but not over Los Angeles, if needed.

The Kings have the fourth-easiest schedule, including six games against tanking teams like the New York Knicks. If the Kings can win all the games they are supposed to, and steal a few, they have a chance; going 13-7 would get Sacramento to the magic number 44.

Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs, this season must be considered successful. The league is taking notice of the bright future in Sacramento.

By Jackson Crawford

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