In Sacramento, there is pride and joy as the Kings make their way back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. In Portland, there is an equal and opposite sense of pain and frustration.
Kings fans filled the empty space inside Moda Center with “Light the Beam” chants Wednesday as Sacramento ended the longest playoff drought in NBA history with a blowout win over the Portland Trail Blazers. The Kings dealt one more blow to the Blazers on Friday night, eliminating them from playoff contention with a 138-114 victory.
De’Aaron Fox had 20 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists for the Kings (47-30), who can clinch the Pacific Division championship with a win over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday at Golden 1 Center. Fox was one of four players who scored 20 points for Sacramento.
“We were really good offensively, the way the ball moved, the way our spacing was out on the floor, the way we played with pace,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “These guys really play for each other. I mean, the ball gets swung and I think a guy has an open shot, and that guy makes one more pass to a guy who’s completely wide open, and so to get off the ball that quick, it’s just a remarkable thing to have from a group that is extremely connected. They all want each other to succeed, and I’m thrilled to death with the way we’re playing offensively and how we’re playing for each other.”
Shaedon Sharpe scored 27 points for the Blazers (32-45), who will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Blazers coach Chauncey Billups praised Kings general manager Monte McNair and Brown for their work in Sacramento this season, saying Brown is a strong candidate for Coach of the Year.
“Mike has done an incredible job, but the front office did a great job, too,” Billups said. “They’ve put together a heck of a team. Obviously, (they) got Sabonis last year, but I thought the Kevin Huerter pickup was very, very underrated. Malik Monk, to have a guy like that who can come off your bench, I thought was very, very underrated as well.
“And then, obviously, De’Aaron is in tip-top shape and very motivated, but Mike has done an incredible job. They have a way that they play. They play fast as hell, and you know you’re going to have a hard time keeping them under 120, 125 (points) every single night, so he’s been incredible and I think he’s right up there for Coach of the Year with what he’s been able to do with their team.”
Billups did the best he could with what’s left of his team. Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic, Cam Reddish, Justise Winslow, Ryan Arcidiacono, Keon Johnson and Ibou Badji were all ruled out due to injuries. The Blazers started Skylar Mays at point guard one day after signing him to a 10-day contract.
Before the game, Billups was asked how much he wrestles with the logic of shutting down the team’s top players and the frustration of putting an inferior product on the floor.
“It sucks to lose,” Billups said. “I’ll just stand on that. It always sucks to lose and you get to this point in the season, and I didn’t think we would be here last year, to be honest with you, but we are and these games are tough. They’re tough on me. They’re tough on all of us, but me as the coach, me as the leader, it sucks. It sucks. It really does. I understand what’s going on and where we’re at, but it sucks. It sucks and I don’t like it at all.”