DALLAS -- Nothing to lose for. It’s an odd statement, but the Sacramento Kings know it’s meaning. Without a 2019 draft pick, there is no incentive for the Kings to drop games down the stretch like a few teams are doing around this time of year.
Sacramento had that incentive last season. Needing more talent on the roster, they easily could have waved the white flag down the stretch with the hopes of improving their draft stock.
Instead, a decision was made to value winning with the pretense that it might help set the stage for a cultural shift in the 2018-19 season. Over the final 20 games of last season, the Kings finished 9-11.
The basketball gods shined brightly down on the Kings for their efforts. Sacramento moved from the eighth spot in the lottery to the second overall selection where they drafted Marvin Bagley III.
After a quick start to this season, the upstart Kings set their sights on breaking the franchise’s 12-year playoff drought. They were in the race until a few weeks ago when a series of setbacks, in conjunction with some strong play from both the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, ended Sacramento’s hopes.
Since the All-Star break, the Kings are just 6-10. They’ve had some stumbles against less than stellar opponents and the weight of the playoff chase, mixed with the frustration of falling short, has put the team in a bad place.
“Guys don’t like losing, I don’t think as a competitor anyone would like losing,” De’Aaron Fox told NBC Sports California. “We’re still coming out playing the way we play and just trying to continue to get better, grow through every game and just try to take the momentum into next season.”
With nine games remaining on the schedule, Sacramento has two choices. They can let the events of the last few weeks push them down a path of self-pity or they can show the resilience that they displayed last year which helped set them up for a surprising season.
There was a common theme amongst the players when they were asked how they would like to finish the season, despite coming up empty on their playoff dreams.
“We’ve got to finish the season in a good way and try to be over .500,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said Tuesday following shootaround in Dallas. “That’s our main goal right now.”
“I would like to finish over .500,” Buddy Hield added. “Whether it’s two games, three games, even one game. That belief that we can win over 40 games and show that the franchise is moving in the right direction.”
“It’s been a long time since the Kings have had a winning record and that’s what we’re shooting for right now,” said Fox.
41-41 is just a number at this point, but it’s a mark Sacramento hasn’t seen since the 2005-06 season, coach Rick Adelman’s final season with the club.
A look at the schedule has the Kings with five or six more winnable games. At 36-37, they’ll need to go 5-4 to finish at 41-41.
One things is clear, the Kings aren’t satisfied with how this season is ending, even if it was unexpected from the outside. No one else in the league had them anywhere near this record coming into the year. Even Vegas had them winning just over 25 games.
“We’re trying to keep going beyond the expectations that people had for us this year and just trying to get as many wins as possible and get better,” Fox said.
One of the goals coming in was to surpass last season’s win total by 5-10 games. The Kings are one victory away from the 10 game improvement mark of 37.
“It’s better than last year, but still, it’s that taste inside of you which is not good when you don’t make the playoffs and finish the season early,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s okay. We are still a young group and we are on our way.”
The expectations are rising and it starts with shaking off the disappointment of falling short and keeping the train on the tracks to conclude the season.
“We’ve got to finish strong and end the season on a good note so everybody, from the coaching staff, management and fans can have something to look forward to next season,” Hield said.
After a disappointing loss to the Lakers Sunday in LA, the Kings need a bounce back game against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday evening to get back to the .500 mark on the season. They beat this team less than a week ago at Golden 1 Center, but winning on the road is never easy.
Success at the NBA is typically a process. The Kings jump started their progression with a strong showing to finish last season. A repeat of those results might set them up for even more success in next year.