The road trip is over. After a 1-6 homestand to start the month and the devastating injury to veteran Rudy Gay, no one knew what to expect when the Kings ventured out on an eight game swing back east.
3-5 isn’t something to throw a parade over, but with all things considered, it’s a good showing for Sacramento.
“It’s been a heck of a trip for us, I couldn’t be prouder of our guys, they’re playing their tails off,” Dave Joerger told media following the loss to Houston Tuesday night. “Ran out of gas there last night in Philly a little bit but we fought to the end. Then really ran out legs today.”
As the saying goes, “home is where the heart is,” but in the NBA, the road is usually where teams come together, both on and off the court.
The Sacramento Kings came into the season with an entirely new coaching staff, but also eight new faces on the roster. While they sit at just 19-30 on the year, this isn’t a pushover team. They compete on a nightly basis and despite their inability to either avoid huge deficits of hold onto big leads, each night usually comes down to the final few minutes of the game.
“The comradery is good, the chemistry has been good, the ball movement has been good, even when we’re losing games,” Joerger said.
Quality road wins in Detroit, Cleveland and Charlotte jump off the page. Tough, competitive losses in Chicago, Indiana and Philadelphia by a combined 10 points leave the Kings wondering, “what if?”
Sacramento is showing that they can go toe-to-toe with almost any team, not named the Houston Rockets. But even that game falls firmly in the “scheduling loss” category with the team playing their fourth game in five nights.
They return home Friday night where they draw the Phoenix Suns to kick off another strange anomaly in the schedule. The Kings play 11 of their next 13 games at Golden 1 Center and the two road games are against in-state opponents in the Warriors and Lakers.
No time changes. No long plane rides. Just a lot of home cooking and sleeping in your own bed.
The loss of both Gay and wing Garrett Temple, who injured his left hamstring in Houston, is a concern. Omri Casspi continues to miss games with a lower leg injury, but there is hope that he may be available sometime next week.
Joerger will have to get create with his rotations and rely heavily on young players. But this is nothing he isn’t used to. Last season in Memphis, Joerger faced similar challenges when he lost veterans Mike Conley Jr., Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol for long stretches. Overall, Joerger was forced to play 28 different players, including plenty of D-League call ups.
For many teams, this is the dog days of the schedule. It’s the time when contenders put it in autopilot and prepare for the playoffs. But for a team like Sacramento that sits just three games out of the final spot in the Western Conference playoff chase, this is an opportunity to close the gap on the group ahead of them in the standings.
During this stretch of games, the Kings play eight teams with with a sub-.500 record, including the Nuggets, which they are chasing in the standings.
Even with huge crowds filling up Golden 1 Center, the Kings are just 8-13 at home this season. This is the moment where they can either defend their home court and get right back in it or fall by the wayside and prepare for another early summer.