Success-hungry Kings close in on long-awaited playoff berth

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings could be rolling on the beam all the way to the NBA playoffs.

The resurgent Kings are poised to end the longest postseason drought in league history, with first-year coach Mike Brown employing a quick offense led by De’Aaron’s dynamic duo Fox and Domantas Sabonis to put Sacramento in first place in the Pacific Division.

“It’s a great feeling. It’s great because it’s my first time,” Fox said of joining the playoff hunt. “It’s something we want to make annual. We want to fight for a title. … It’s great for the city and the organization. We always want bigger things for ourselves.

The Kings (43-29) sit in third place in the Western Conference and could be in a position to clinch the franchise’s first playoff spot since 2006 in the final three games of a four-game homestand. ends Monday night against Minnesota.

The 16 seasons without a playoff spot is the longest in NBA history and the longest active playoff drought among any team in the NBA, NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball.

“I feel like this group believes in themselves, not just because I tell them they’re good, but because they’ve come out and proven it time and time again, whether individually in certain situations or collectively. like a team,” Brown said. “When you have a team that believes, they can be dangerous. You have a team connected that believes they can be a very dangerous team and that’s what our group is right now.

The Kings are also one of the NBA’s best feel-good stories this season with an entertaining style of basketball that leads the league with 120.9 points per game for the league’s highest rating since 1983-84.

Every home victory is punctuated by the lighting of the beam – a beam of light from purple lasers atop the Golden 1 Center – and fans have even chanted for the beam at road games across the country.

“There’s like a playoff vibe every night,” swingman Kevin Huerter, one of the key offseason acquisitions, said after a recent home win. “The only thing missing is handing out the t-shirts and maybe towels, whatever they do for the playoffs. But it really is every night.

The Kings have been one of the most success-starved franchises since moving to Sacramento in 1985. They had a losing record in each of their first 14 seasons in California, winning just one playoff game.

That all changed in 1999 when general manager Geoff Petrie and coach Rick Adelman built a winner around players like Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic who played an entertaining style in a grind-it-out era that has almost delivered a championship.

The Kings posted eight-game winning streak and playoff berths under Adelman, but lost a heartbreaking seven-game streak to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002, then saw their title hopes derailed the following year when Webber suffered a serious knee injury in the second. playoff round.

Adelman kept the team competitive until 2006, but was fired after a second consecutive first-round playoff exit.

Then the dark era began with 16 straight losing seasons under 11 coaches, a change in ownership and fears that the city would lose its only major professional team to Seattle.

Vivek Ranadive bought the team from the Maloof family in 2013 and kept the team in Sacramento by building an arena downtown, but there were no on-field successes until this year.

The Kings traded star DeMarcus Cousins ​​and botched several high draft picks. But they were revived after last year’s trade with Indiana that sent promising guard Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana for a big point guard in Sabonis and the decision to hire Brown as coach.

Sabonis proved to be the perfect piece to team up with the speedy Fox, giving Sacramento a dynamic duo.

Fox is averaging 25.4 points per game and was the league’s leading clutch scorer this season, scoring in double digits in the fourth quarter a league-high 25 times.

Sabonis, acquired in a controversial trade from Indiana midway through last season for up-and-coming guard Tyrese Haliburton, was the perfect piece to team up with Fox with his big-man playmaking ability. Sabonis is averaging 19 points, 12.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists with 12 triple-doubles.

Add Huerter and rookie Keegan Murray’s outside shooting, Harrison Barnes’ veteran presence and Malik Monk’s off-the-bench scoring and the Kings caught the eye of other contenders.

“Give Mike Brown a lot of credit,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. “He has the guys who are playing a lot better. Fox plays at the All-NBA level. Sabonis has been great for them. They play with so much rhythm. All of these guys have a lot more confidence.

“When you play with confidence, it naturally opens things up for the individual and the group.”


AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report


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