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The Restart Reset: The Sacramento Kings Are On The Cusp Of A Playoff Berth

Admit it: This would absolutely be the most apt season for the Kings to finally break their streak of 14 seasons without a playoff berth. Sacramento is a truly competitive team, with intriguing depth and scoring up and down the roster. They, just like the New Orleans Pelicans, truly earned their chance to compete for a playoff spot in Orlando, even if you argue that the field is too big. At 28-36, the Kings deserve a chance to see their season out ahead of what will be an important offseason.

They enter the Disney World bubble as a shell of themselves, with multiple players having tested positive for COVID-19, others dealing with injuries, and another who already broke the public health rules at the player campus. It’s been a very Kings start to the most important eight games the franchise has played in a while. That said, there is a chance in front of them to charge into the playoffs and be competitive once they get there.

ROSTER

Marvin Bagley III
Harrison Barnes (awaiting arrival after positive COVID-19 test)
Kent Bazemore
Nemanja Bjelica
Bogdan Bogdanovic
Corey Brewer
Yogi Ferrell
De’Aaron Fox
Harry Giles III
Kyle Guy
Buddy Hield
Richaun Holmes
Justin James
DaQuan Jeffries
Cory Joseph
Alex Len
Jabari Parker

SCHEDULE

Friday, July 31 — 8 p.m. ET — vs. San Antonio Spurs
Sunday, Aug. 2 — 6 p.m. ET — vs. Orlando Magic
Tuesday, Aug. 4 — 2:30 p.m. ET — vs. Dallas Mavericks
Thursday, Aug. 6 — 1:30 p.m. ET — vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Friday, Aug. 7 — 2 p.m. ET — vs. Brooklyn Nets
Sunday, Aug. 9 — 8 p.m. ET — vs. Houston Rockets
Tuesday, Aug. 11 — 9 p.m. ET — vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Thursday, Aug. 13 — time TBD — vs. Los Angeles Lakers

STANDINGS

1. Los Angeles Lakers: 49-14
2. Los Angeles Clippers: 44-20 (5.5 GB)
3. Denver Nuggets: 43-22 (7)
4. Utah Jazz: 41-23 (8.5)
5. Oklahoma City Thunder: 40-24 (9.5)
6. Houston Rockets: 40-24 (9.5)
7. Dallas Mavericks: 40-27 (11)
8. Memphis Grizzlies: 32-33 (18)
9. Portland Trail Blazers: 29-37 (21.5)
10. New Orleans Pelicans: 28-36 (21.5)
10. Sacramento Kings: 28-36 (21.5)
11. San Antonio Spurs: 27-36 (22)
12. Phoenix Suns: 26-39 (24)

WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?

Getting into the playoffs. Sacramento was a darling pick in the preseason to make the playoffs after nearly doing so in 2019, and though a slow start put them back, the Kings are now right where they left off last season. The franchise hasn’t made the playoffs in 14 years but has legitimate momentum and a promising young core that fits together pretty well. They have the firepower to take two play-in games from Memphis if they can force a playoff for the eighth seed, and the depth to make up for injuries or positive virus tests during the restart. Earning a bout with LeBron James and the Lakers and getting their youngsters a spotlight on the playoff stage would be a big step forward for the Kings.

X-FACTOR

Most of the time, this will also be the best player on the team, and in this case that’s De’Aaron Fox. Though the point guard is dealing with an ankle sprain and is out at least a week, that would ideally put him on track to return for (re)opening night. Per Kings Herald, before Fox came back from a separate grade 3 ankle sprain on Dec. 17, the Kings ranked 30th in the league in pace at 97.47. From Fox’s return to the NBA’s pause on March 11, the Kings ranked 15th in the NBA in pace at 100.18. The team’s personnel is best when Sacramento plays in transition, and Fox is the battery that powers that attack. Head coach Luke Walton has recently discussed playing faster in Orlando as well, which would bode well for Fox and the team overall. They were 7-3 in the games leading up to the break, all with Fox healthy and all with an increased tempo.

BIGGEST ON-COURT QUESTION

How does the center rotation shape up? We know Hield, Bogdanovic and Bjelica will be aggressive from deep and that when Fox can jump-start a possession, the Kings can score. But Walton was not able to establish a pecking order at the 5 after a trade-deadline deal added Len to a roster that already included the much-improved Holmes as well as Bagley, the 2018 No. 2 overall pick.

All three have the potential to fit how the Kings want to play, with Len not quite as athletic or quick but able to pop out for threes and a much more consistent defender than the other two younger players. Holmes posted career highs across the board, including in several advanced defensive statistical categories after long being jumpy and unreliable as a defensive anchor. Yet Bagley is clearly the focus here, and he allegedly gained 10 lbs. of muscle during the shutdown, making him a more ideal center rather than a 4, where he played at Duke and in many of his Kings minutes so far. There is likely space for all three to get minutes here and there, but as much as this is about a push for the playoffs, it would be hard to box Bagley out of an opportunity to finish out his second season. The Kings’ strength may be on the perimeter, but they will need to defend, rebound and finish inside to round out a team capable of jumping into the playoffs. To do that, they will need to focus during minicamp and scrimmage games on who of these three bigs fits best on the faster, more aggressive team they’re striving to be in Orlando.

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