Without fail, someone always says the magic word in Sacramento. Sometimes it comes at the beginning of the season and vanishes by Christmas. Other times, it sneaks out of someone’s mouth around the All-Star break when the team strings together a couple of nice wins.
After dispatching the San Antonio Spurs Monday night at the AT&T Center, not just one, but multiple Kings players decided to talk about the team’s potential to reach the playoffs. It’s a word that shouldn’t be spoken in Sacramento, until the Kings’ magic number has reached zero.
“We're all here to help change the Kings' culture, to get the Kings back to the playoffs, do special things here in Sacramento,” Tyrese Haliburton said during postgame interviews. “Things that they haven't done in a long time.
“If we really want to do what we say we want to and change things around here, then this has got to be consistent. We’re doing a really good job right now, we’re having a lot of fun.”
We’ll give Haliburton a pass. He’s a rookie and looking at a 14-year playoff drought as just a number. He probably doesn’t realize that the last time his franchise made the postseason, he was just finishing up kindergarten.
Richaun Holmes has no excuse. He lived through the agony of missing the playoffs last season in Sacramento. After moving into prime position to make the play-in game, the season was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The goal for this team is to make the playoffs, that’s what we’re focused on,” Holmes said. “Right now, we’re just focused on getting better everyday, taking it one game at a time and just worrying about how we can continue to make ourselves better on both sides of the floor.”
Holmes should have understood the curse of the Kings when he was banished to his hotel room in the Orlando bubble for 10 days for ordering chicken wings from a food delivery service last season.
This isn’t going to be easy. The Kings are up against nearly a decade and a half of futility. It’s going to take a team effort and everyone pulling in the same direction for the team to avoid a 15th straight year on the outside looking in.
“We want to continue to win, continue to keep this thing rolling and hopefully be in the playoffs at the end of the day,” Holmes said.
Buddy Hield spoke to the media as well on Monday, but after more than four seasons in Sacramento, he knows to avoid the 'P' word. He wants the team to stay humble, stay together and keep improving.
Sacramento is currently a game out of the 10th seed in the Western Conference and just three games behind the Dallas Mavericks, who currently hold the seventh spot in the standings.
With the play-in tournament, there are additional opportunities to scramble into the playoffs. The seventh and eighth seeds will play each other, with the winner advancing to the first round. Meanwhile, the loser of the 7/8 game will face the winner of the matchup between the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds for a chance to make the first round.
Making the play-in games isn’t the same as making the playoffs, but it gives a new wrinkle to the chase.
For now, maybe the Kings should avoid jinxing themselves and talking about playoffs. Play-in might be a nice substitute term, but until this team has locked up a spot and snapped the streak, it’s best not to risk talking about such things.