SAN ANTONIO -- The Sacramento Kings faced the harsh reality of elimination Saturday night in Houston. It was a pain the young group hoped to put off until at least the first round of the NBA playoffs.

While the Kings stumbled down the stretch, missing the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, the San Antonio Spurs continue to defy the odds.

San Antonio looked dead in the water around the All-Star break. For one of the few times in recent memory, the Rodeo Road Trip ate the Spurs alive. Coach Gregg Popovich’s group dropped seven of eight on the road trip and looked beatable.

In classic Spurs fashion, they turned the tables on the league, stringing together a nine-game winning streak to jump right back into the playoff race. With Sacramento’s loss in Houston, the Spurs clinched their 22nd consecutive postseason berth, an unheard-of feat in the modern NBA.  

“To never miss ... you’re going to have years where you have injuries and those kind of things happen, and tough stretches, they’ve had them, but they’ve always survived,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said Sunday afternoon.

The 22-year streak coincides with Popovich's tenure with the franchise. The future Hall of Fame coach has five championship rings over the stretch and has moved into third place all time in regular-season victories.

Prior to Sunday night's game, Popovich spoke about the Kings and the steps they’ve taken this season.

“They’ve become a confident team, an aggressive team, they have great pace,” Popovich said before the game. "They’re just learning how to play with each other. It takes time, but that’s a young, talented group that Vlade’s [Divac] put together, and they’re learning about themselves and how they want to play.”

 

Popovich also was complimentary of the Kings' coaching staff and the way they have the team playing on the court, even if they came up short of their ultimate goal.

“They’ve accepted the system really well and continued to improve throughout the year,” Popovich added. “But young teams get more bumps in the road than experienced teams, and they’ve had to deal with that a little bit.”

After exchanging pleasantries about one another during pregame, Popovich and his Spurs got another firsthand look at Joerger’s surprise Kings squad.

Despite the frustrations of playoff contention elimination and playing for the sixth time in six different cities over a nine-day stretch, the Kings showed incredible resilience on their way to a 113-106 win.

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Sacramento took a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, only to give it all back. With 2:53 remaining, the Spurs took a 106-105 lead on a DeMar DeRozan floater. It looked like, once again, the Kings would lose a game after leading big.

Flipping the script, the Kings held the Spurs scoreless after the DeRozan bucket, hitting a veteran San Antonio team with an 8-0 run to finish the game and come away with a victory.

"It was a back-to-back for them, so they did a great job,” Popovich -- who was ejected in the third quarter -- said following the game. “They're young guys, they're talented, they want to keep building for the future, and they're good people. They're going to come in and they are going to play."

The win gave the Kings a season sweep of the Spurs for the first time in franchise history.

“Just a terrific effort for what we're trying to build here,” Joerger said. “That goes a long, long way to the heart and resiliency that we want to have as a core belief and a character value for our team, our franchise and our program."

“We have a lot of respect for the Spurs, and wish them the best of luck in the playoffs because they are a program we want to be like,” Joerger added.

A road-weary Kings team doesn’t get much of a break. They flew home following the game, where Houston will be waiting to face them again Tuesday night. In classic NBA scheduling form, the Rockets have a two-day break leading into the game and should be well rested.