Fifty-seven games down, 25 to go.
Rolling out of the All-Star break, the Kings are seven weeks away from concluding the 2022-23 NBA regular season and answering the biggest question surrounding the franchise: Can they finally snap the 16-year playoff drought?
Sacramento is in good position to do so. The Kings have been parked in the Western Conference No. 3 seed for 37 consecutive days heading into their matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night at Golden 1 Center.
Expectations have changed. The Kings aren’t just a cute team hoping to get lucky in the play-in tournament and earn the right to play a best-of-seven series anymore. This team can beat anyone on any given night. Now, coach Mike Brown's bunch has the next 25 games to prove just how much of a playoff threat they are.
Here are five storylines to watch as Sacramento gears up for its playoff push:
It’s not going to be an easy cruise to the finish line.
The Kings have the most total games remaining (25) and the most back-to-backs left on their schedule (6) among all Western Conference teams.
Sacramento also owns the second-hardest remaining strength of schedule in the West, as their upcoming opponents have combined for a .520 winning percentage.
Ten of their final 25 games are against teams currently in a top-six spot in their conference, including bouts against championship favorites such as the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and two tests against Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns.
The Kings can either look at their tough upcoming schedule as unfortunate or an opportunity to prove just how big of a playoff threat they can be.
Sacramento is 21-8 against teams with a record below .500 this season, but just 11-17 against teams over .500. As you can imaging due to the note above, 15 of Sacramento’s final 25 games are against teams at .500 or better.
It’s not like the Kings haven’t beaten any good teams this year. They trounced the Brooklyn Nets by 32 points in November and spoiled the debut of the Luka Doncic-Kyrie Irving partnership by beating the Dallas Mavericks in Sacramento just before the break.
But beating contenders is something Sacramento will have to prove it can do consistently over the next 25 games if they want a chance to do the same in the playoffs.
Red Velvet revitalized
Kevin Huerter didn’t exactly light up the 3-point contest during All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately for the sharpshooter, that dud followed a trend that has been lingering around Huerter all season.
Huerter started the season on fire from 3-point range, knocking down 53.2 percent of his triples in October and 41.1 percent in November. He has seen that clip decrease every month: December (37.5 percent), January (37.2 percent) and February (28.6 percent).
Huerter is playing 30.5 minutes per game, right around his career average (29.8). But he is involved in much more off-ball movement in the Kings' offense than he was over four seasons as a catch-and-shoot threat in Atlanta.
Is the 3-point shooting decline due to fatigue or just a coincidence?
Nine rest days during the All-Star break certainly should help his cause either way. If Huerter rediscovers his early-season 3-point shooting form, Sacramento should have no troubles holding down a top-six spot in the conference and avoiding the play-in tournament.
Keegan Murray probably won’t be named the 2022-23 NBA Rookie of the Year. That crown belongs to Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft who leads a young, scrappy Orlando Magic team in scoring.
But Murray could still make his mark as a rookie. He needs to drain 51 3-pointers over the Kings’ final 25 games to set the all-time NBA rookie record, currently held by star guard Donovan Mitchell, who nailed 187 for the Utah Jazz in 2017-18.
When Murray is knocking down his shots, the Kings’ offense is unstoppable. Sacramento is a perfect 8-0 when Murray scores at least 20 points and is 10-4 when he knocks down at least four 3-pointers.
Even Murray, whose composure is more comparable to a savvy veteran than a 22-year-old rookie, isn't immune to the first-year blues. The 6-foot-8 forward has endured ice cold stretches this season, such as the three-game funk in early February when he scored seven total points on 2-for-21 shooting.
Murray, though, has always been able to bounce back.
The Kings know what they will get every single night from guard De’Aaron Fox and double-double machine Domantas Sabonis. Murray avoiding those cold stretches and disappearing acts will be crucial for the team's playoff positioning.
Fox flirted with stardom over his first five NBA seasons, but he finally is gaining deserved recognition in Year Six.
Now the star on a winning team, Fox likely will exit the 2022-23 season with hardware. He received his first career All-Star nod earlier this month and nearly is a lock to win the first Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year award.
RELATED: All-Star Fox quickly turns page to Kings' playoff push
Fox leads the NBA with 148 total clutch points and is shooting a league-high 58.8 percent from the field in clutch time -- the final five minutes in a five-point game.
Trophies are a bonus, but Fox has said all that matters to him is the Kings' playoff positioning.
As one of the best NBA closers this season, Fox is tasked with leading the charge for the franchise's most important 25-game stretch in nearly two decades.
This will be Fourth-Quarter Fox's greatest test.