DeAaron Fox

Kings' margin for error decreasing daily as playoffs approach

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SACRAMENTO – The Kings’ 112-104 loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday at Golden 1 Center was a costly one for a Sacramento squad trying to move its way up in the Western Conference.

It was a game that, on paper, the Kings had to figure was one they should have won handily.

Instead, they let it slip away after a dreadful third quarter.

Now, rather that taking a small step forward and inching closer to the No. 5 slot in the West, the loss dropped the Kings into seventh place.

Any loss at this point of the season is no doubt costly, but it feels even more so when the feeling going in was so positive.

The Kings had pinpointed this game as one that would kick-start a pivotal stretch for the team.

Sacramento’s next 19 games will go a long way in determining just where the Kings will end up when it comes to playoff time.

If they’re going to make any type of movement now, it won’t be easy.

Twelve of their final games are against teams that are .500 or better. Those same teams would qualify for the postseason if the playoffs began today.

There is some room on the schedule to make some waves. After games against the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, Sacramento has a three-game run against the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards, none of which are above .500. As the standings are now, all three are on the outside of the playoff picture.

It’ll be a very intriguing stretch for the Kings, who have had a pattern during the 2023-24 B+NBA season of playing up to the better teams and down to the lower teams.

That trend continued Sunday against Houston. The Rockets had lost 10 of their previous 15 games before grinding out the win at Golden 1 Center.

“We know we have to be better,” De’Aaron Fox said. “We can talk about playing down to competition, up to competition, whatever you want to call it. We have to be a more consistent team regardless of what that is.

“I guess if you’re in the playoffs you’re going to play a good team, right? So I guess you play up to your competition. Look at the bright side of it, right?”

It sounds easy enough, but it will take a lot more than what the Kings already have shown in order to secure a playoff spot.

The push for the postseason begins in earnest on Tuesday when Milwaukee comes to town. The Bucks, who beat the Kings in overtime on Jan. 14, hold the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference.

It really won’t matter, however, unless Sacramento learns to stick to the daily game plans.

Like they did in losses to the Miami Heat on Feb. 26 and to the Chicago Bulls on Monday, the Kings were warned that both opponents liked to pack the paint with designs on stopping any sort of drives to the hoop.

But instead of heeding those plans, the Kings repeatedly tried to work deep into the paint and forgot to kick the ball out to open shooters.

It’s a trend that is causing all sorts of concern for the Kings’ coaching staff.

“They just hold onto the ball a little too long,” coach Mike Brown said. “As soon as you see a second body, you just have to get off it. We have guys that are capable scorers and play-makers, so sometimes it gets a little tough to get off of it but you have to have the discipline to say, ‘Hey, screw it. As soon as I feel something, because I know they’re coming, I’m going to make the pass. I’m not probably going to get the assist, and obviously I’m not going to score.’ But it starts the domino effect.

“We talked about it, we drilled it. It’s something that we’ve done before, but in the last five games our spray game has not been good, and it’s evident. We have to do a better job, especially versus the better defensive teams that protect that paint.”

There is still time for the Kings to get that corrected and to turn things back into a favorable direction. But they’re about a month away from when the playoffs begin, so the margin for error keeps decreasing with every passing day.

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