Kings' loss to Suns shows margin for error razor thin in West


If the Kings are to snap their 16-year NBA playoff drought and secure a top-four seed in the Western Conference, they will need to fend off a gauntlet of fierce foes. 

Sacramento has held onto the No. 3 seed for 28 consecutive days and is breathing down the necks of the free-falling Grizzlies for the second seed, trailing Memphis by two-and-a-half games.

After splitting a back-to-back with a Kyrie Irving- and Luka Dončić-led Dallas Mavericks team last week, the Kings lost 120-109 to a revamped Phoenix Suns team on Tuesday night at Footprint Center. Although superstar Kevin Durant, who Phoenix acquired in a blockbuster deal before the trade deadline, was not available, the energy in the arena was palpable. 

With 25 games remaining in the regular season, the Kings (32-25) will experience more and more playoff-like atmospheres on the road as teams make their final push. In a hostile environment against a playoff-caliber team, each and every mistake Sacramento makes is further amplified under an unfamiliar microscope. If Tuesday night's loss was a test of their playoff mettle, the Kings would have failed. 

Sacramento turned the ball over 17 times and displayed a lack of fundamentals unbecoming of a playoff team. The loss was anything but surprising to coach Mike Brown. 

"You can't beat yourself," Brown said postgame. "And I'm not saying that they didn't have anything to do with it, what I mean by that is, you can't have unforced turnovers against a good team like this on the road. If there are 50/50 balls bouncing around on the ground, you gotta want it more than them, so you gotta be the first one on the floor to get to it. And you gotta come up with it.


"All the little things you may not have to focus on against some other teams, against a good team like this in their building, you have to be able to do those things in order to get a win. It's what you'll experience in the playoffs, because the team that usually wins the possession game, plays the most mistake-free basketball, is going to have a chance to win. Those teams usually at that point can score."

The Western Conference, minus the ever-consistent Denver Nuggets (40-18), has been a bloodbath all season long. Teams will rise or fall one, two, and sometimes even three spots in the standings on any given night because of how tight the conference is. That's about to change. 

"The West is crazy," Brown added. "You look at the talent, you look at all the new guys in the West and what some of these teams already had and a lot of these teams are playoff-ready. They've been there and done it at a high level for a few years now, so to add the pieces that they have is just going to make it even better for those individual teams and harder for everybody else. We gotta come and be more consistent defensively and we gotta take care of all the little things and we have to also continue to shoot the ball well and play fast in order to continue to rise in the direction we want to go."

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With the All-Star break now underway for some teams, the Kings deserve to rest up and celebrate the accomplishments of stars De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, who will represent Sacramento in the All-Star Game on Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City. Sharpshooter Kevin Huerter and rookie Keegan Murray also will represent the organization in the 3-point contest and Rising Stars Game, respectively. 

However, once the festivities end, it's go time. Contenders will begin to separate themselves from pretenders and the Kings, without question, have the talent to be considered the former over the latter. Will they live up to their potential or crumble under the bright lights? Time will tell.