The post mortem on the 2019-20 Kings season isn’t ready to be written just yet, but it's getting late for Luke Walton's team. After a promising season last year, the Kings come out of the All-Star break at 21-33, seven games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Injuries, bad beats, two-minute report failings and playing down to competition have turned the first two-thirds of the season into a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of year. With 28 games remaining, do the Kings still have a chance to turn the season around?
The short answer is yes, the Kings still have an opportunity to end their 13-season postseason drought. The long answer is more complex.
The Kings open their post-All-Star break schedule at home with a matchup against the Grizzlies. If they can find a way to beat an up-and-coming Memphis team, they would give themselves a glimmer of hope for the remainder of the season.
A loss would put them eight games off the pace, with a 1-2 record against Memphis. Game over.
If the Kings can get past the Grizz, they have a small window to make up ground. They travel to Los Angeles for a game against the Clippers on Friday. The last time the Kings were in Staples Center, they lit the Clippers up for a franchise-record 21 3-pointers in a 124-103 win.
After the trip to LA, the Kings continue their four-game road trip with stops in San Francisco to play the Warriors, Oklahoma City and Memphis. Sacramento is 2-0 against the Warriors and 1-1 versus both the Thunder and Grizzlies on the season.
Following the four-game road trip, the Kings return home to host the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers. At the end of this eight-game stretch, the Kings either will still be breathing or their season will be over.
A 5-3 record over this grouping of games really is the worst the Kings can afford. A 4-4 stint or even a 3-5 record would be a huge blow in one of the last remaining soft spots in the schedule.
Even if the Kings make it through this stretch with a 5-3 record or better, they have a long road in front of them. They play 11 of their final 20 games at home, with eight of those games coming against clubs with a .500 or better record. Ten of those remaining games are against teams currently in the postseason picture.
The schedule is one issue, but in order for Sacramento to make up ground, they also have to pass over additional teams in the standings. The Kings trail the Phoenix Suns by a half-game, the New Orleans Pelicans by a game-and-a-half, the San Antonio Spurs by two games and the Portland Trail Blazers by three games.
In short, the Kings would need to jump over five teams in the standings over the final 28 games to make the playoffs.
The remaining strength of schedule, according to Tankathon.com, favors both the Blazers and the Pelicans in this situation.
Remaining strength of schedule (win percentage of remaining opponents):
Trail Blazers .467
Strength of schedule only is one of the issues facing the up and coming Grizzlies. Having one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, Memphis has very few players who have been in this situation before. Jonas Valanciunas has 43 career playoff games under his belt. Kyle Anderson played in 30 postseason games with the Spurs and newly acquired Gorgui Dieng has played in five. Tyus Jones (4) and Grayson Allen (2) round out the team’s total playoff experience.
If the Grizzlies fall, which is entirely possible, that still leaves a bevy of teams standing between the Kings and an elusive postseason berth.
The Blazers made it to the Western Conference finals last season, but they’ve struggled to stay healthy and build momentum all season after a series of roster moves. The Spurs are riding a 22-year postseason streak and they always seem to flourish in the window directly following the All-Star break.
The Pelicans just started integrating top pick Zion Williamson into their rotation and they are 5-5 since his arrival. Phoenix is just 3-7 over its last 10 games and their strength of schedule is difficult.
Despite losing their final two games heading into the All-Star break, the Kings are 6-4 over their previous 10 games. They’re playing better basketball, keyed by the insertion of Bogdan Bogdanovic in the starting lineup, Buddy Hield finding a rhythm off the bench and the arrival of veteran Kent Bazemore.
The odds are not on the Kings' side, but if they can get healthy, integrate Jabari Parker into the rotation and get on a roll, there still is time to at least make this race interesting. It starts Thursday against the Grizzlies. If they can’t get that one, then none of this matters.