SACRAMENTO -- During the last 14 seasons of playoff-free basketball in Sacramento, there almost always develops a trend that you rely on. Whether it’s struggling to compete or the Kings once again learning how to win, you often know what type of game you are about to see each night.
That isn’t the case with the 2020-21 season.
In the span of 35 games, the Kings have won three out of four, lost nine out of eleven, won seven of eight, lost nine in a row and they are now one really poorly played minute of basketball away from another three-game win streak.
The team’s 123-120 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night was another example of the team’s wild up-and-down play. Unlike the previous game where they strung together a series of mistakes, Sacramento battled and came out on top.
“Our backs are against the wall, at some point, you have to take this thing seriously,” Buddy Hield said. “People’s jobs are on the line. Everybody’s fighting for something and we want to go out there and win. In this league, the only thing that matters is winning.”
At 14-21, the Kings aren’t in the postseason hunt, but they also aren’t out of it. At any given moment, they feel like a team that is about to live up to their potential or lose every game the rest of the way out.
Call it manic. Call it inconsistent. Call it Kings basketball.
The man at the center of it all is head coach Luke Walton, who is constantly under fire. He has been since taking the job in the summer of 2019 and his seat is only getting hotter.
Walton has the difficult task of traversing a condensed 72-game season in a global pandemic with a team that is lacking depth at almost every position and can’t seem to play consistent basketball for more than a few games at a time.
It’s not a comfortable situation to be in for a coach, but it’s one that Walton signed up for when he inked a four-year contract to coach the Kings.
Like everyone else involved in the franchise, it has been a roller coaster ride for Walton. He is known as a players coach and he has a very laid back demeanor, but even he has his moments with this group.
“It’s my job,” Walton said. “Whether I’m frustrated or angry, my job is to stay even keel. As a player, I always respected my coaches that did that. It’s something I keep in mind as I try to coach.”
He was so frustrated with his team’s play last week that he punched a clipboard in the middle of a loss.
It’s hard to fault Walton’s reaction in the moment. He understands the NBA. It’s a results business and his team’s inability to play consistent basketball will eventually lead to changes.
“This is the NBA, you’ve got to figure it out,” Hield said of the losing. “You’ve got to grow, you have to mature. You can’t feel too hot about yourself, you’ve just gotta keep trying to figure out ways to win in this league. There’s no excuse for that.”
While the Kings are disappointed in their erratic play, they continue to say the right things. They haven’t turned on Walton, at least not publicly, and they haven’t turned on each other either.
“This group of guys, we never stop believing in each other,” Marvin Bagley said. “We just keep it rolling, good or bad, we’re going to ride with each other.”
Following the Kings’ game in Portland on Thursday night, they head off for the All-Star break. They also reach the midpoint of the season where they still have a chance to climb back into the chase, especially with the play-in games this season.
They need to find consistency. It’s as simple as that. If they don’t soon, all bets are off regardless of how well the team gets along or whether they’ve turned on the coaching staff.
Wins matter. A win against the Lakers might have bought time. But another prolonged losing streak and everyone in the building should be looking over their shoulder wondering when changes are coming.