The Sacramento Kings understand they aren’t getting quite as much attention as the other contenders in the NBA bubble for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
With much of the focus on current eighth-place team Memphis, New Orleans and its dynamic rookie Zion Williamson and star Damian Lillard and Portland, the Kings remain under the radar.
“I’m not someone to filter myself or hold my tongue or anything and it’s not cocky or anything, I think it’s disrespectful that we don’t even stand a chance, like we shouldn’t even be there,” point guard De’Aaron Fox said before the team left for Florida. “The slow start is what it is but at the end of the day I feel like we have just as much of a chance as these other teams.”
After going 13-7 in the final 20 games before the season was suspended, the Kings had moved back into the fringe of contention under first-year coach Luke Walton. They start the final stretch of the season in a tie for 10th in the West with the Pelicans, 3 1/2 games behind the Grizzlies.
But they will have to do it without some key players. Big man Marvin Bagley III was ruled out after reinjuring his foot in a scrimmage. Fox is nursing a sprained ankle and his status for the start remains up in the air, along with forward Harrison Barnes (coronavirus).
Just being good enough to be in the conversation at this point is an accomplishment for the Kings, whose 13-year playoff drought is the longest active one in the league.
Sacramento (28-36) hasn’t even had a winning season in that span, a stretch that will be extended at least another year with only eight games remaining.
“We’re just in here trying to get back to where we were, and if we can get back to where we were toward the end of the season, we’ll give ourselves a good chance,” Walton said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
The Kings were dealt a setback when Fox sprained his left ankle that sidelined him for more than a month earlier in the season. Fox’s return helped spark the turnaround as he averaged 22.3 points and 6.8 assists per game in his final 29 contests. Bagley then hurt his foot in practice as well and was ruled out for the rest of the season.
Barnes missed the start of the bubble practice as he recovers after a positive coronavirus test, while centre Alex Len, Buddy Hield and Jabari Parker started practice late because of positive tests.
IN THE BUBBLE
The Kings had another temporary loss after arriving in Orlando with big man Richaun Holmes being forced into a 10-day quarantine because he left the bubble to pick up food delivery. That left the team with Harry Giles as the only healthy big man available for practice at one point.
The Kings had hoped the long layoff would help Bagley. The Kings were counting on Bagley taking a big step forward this season after a promising rookie campaign. But Bagley broke his thumb in the season opener and then injured his foot shortly after returning in December. He reinjured the foot again in January and now won't play again until next season. He averaged 14.2 points in his 13 games this season.
The Kings signed forward Corey Brewer last month to add another veteran to the mix. The 34-year-old Brewer played 24 games with Sacramento last season but wasn’t on a roster this season before signing with the Kings. His presence could be key, especially if Barnes isn’t healthy at the start.
Swingman Justin James has also improved from tendinitis in his right knee.
WHERE WE WERE
The Kings were hitting their stride offensively before the league shutdown, led by Fox and Hield. The team ranked 13th in scoring and sixth in 3-pointers made per game over the final 20 games to get back into contention in the West.
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report
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Josh Dubow, The Associated Press