Kings' impending playoff berth offers moment of reflection


SACRAMENTO -- It looms large over the city of Sacramento and has been the talk of the town throughout the 2022-23 NBA season. 

I'm not talking about the Kings' victory beam. But yes, that too. 

For a record 16 straight seasons, Sacramento has failed to make the playoffs, but the longest active playoff drought in all professional sports will end in a matter of days. 

The Kings had an opportunity to punch their ticket on Saturday night with a win combined with losses from both the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers. The Kings handled business, beating the Utah Jazz 121-113 at Golden 1 Center. Unfortunately for Sacramento, the Philadephia 76ers could not take down Phoenix, which means the Kings must wait at least one more night to celebrate. 

With the champagne still on ice, the Kings remain focused on the task at hand: Winning the game in front of them. Most young, playoff-hungry teams might let the postseason become a distraction. Not this team. They're embracing every moment, every emotion and every story that has been told over nearly two miserable decades. 

"The fans are so hungry for it and we can definitely feel that as players," veteran guard Matthew Dellavedova told reporters after the game. "The excitement and intensity is building."

The Kings have been eager to celebrate for months, ever since it was clear that coach Mike Brown's squad was a true championship contender. The excitement not only is for the fanbase but the veteran leaders on the team such as De'Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes who have been here for years. 

"It's been a long time since this franchise, this city has had an opportunity to experience something like that," Brown said postgame. "I don't want to take that away from the players that earned that in the locker room, the coaching staff, the medical team, anybody. I want them to enjoy the moment and what we've done as a group, so I would tell them to do that and there's going to be plenty of time to get to work and focus on what we need to at hand."

In speaking to reporters after the game, Kings rookie forward Keegan Murray revealed a recent conversation he had with Fox, the longest-tenured Kings player, about how fortunate he is to experience this level of success in his first season with the organization. 

"I think I talked to him yesterday or something about it," Murray said. "Just the position I'm in and kinda how lucky I am because a lot of rookies, especially at my draft position, don't really get this opportunity. Just (to know) I'm fortunate to be in this position, know he's put a lot of work in to get to this spot. I'm grateful he's showing me the work ethic you have to have to be able to win games."

"What he's gone through, I feel like is really a tribute to him. Because him and Richaun [Holmes] and [Harrison Barnes] have been the guys that have been here the longest. All the hard work that they've put in, all the trying times that they had. Just to be this close to a playoff spot is a tribute to those guys."

As much emotion is permeating throughout the organization right now, the Kings understand that a simple playoff berth, as historic as it will be, is not the end goal. Instead, it simply is just the next chapter in the story they look to write. 

"I think from the start of the year, coach Brown has noticed people are going to be talking about the playoffs and the drought," Dellavedova explained. "I think from the start he's kind of said he doesn't want that to be the thing where we're happy to be there. We gotta push for more and I think he's done a really good job trying to continue to raise the standards and the expectations."

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Most young teams with a long-awaited playoff berth looming ever-so-largely over their heads might become distracted by its daunting presence. That's where Brown's squad differs from other teams. Each and every player knows how important this feat is, which motivates them to be at their very best and not lose focus on winning the game in front of them. 

"I think our guys have done a great job at being locked in at the task at hand," Brown added. "I do feel they understand how big a deal it is, but nobody's looking over their shoulder and constantly playing on edge trying to attain it. I truly believe in their minds, they feel like they're supposed to be there. But they do understand what it means to the organization and everybody else out there and that's why they're trying. That's why it will be something that we definitely are going to embrace and be excited about when it does happen."

The excitement is palpable, and when the moment finally does happen, the outpour of emotion from the team and the city will be unlike anything most of the players on the roster ever have experienced. 

Until then, it's business as usual. 

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