Kings remain focused, hungry ahead of potentially historic night

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SACRAMENTO -- A mere hours before tip-off in what could be a historically magical night inside Golden 1 Center, the Kings are maintaining their season-long mindset: One game at a time. 

After the Golden State Warriors failed to do their part and earn a win over Minnesota on Sunday, Sacramento will host the No. 7-seeded Timberwolves on Monday night. The Kings could clinch a playoff berth for the first time in 17 years -- in front of a sold-out crowd of die-hard Kings fans who patiently have waited for this moment since 2006. 

With all that in mind, All-Star point guard De’Aaron Fox, who also is Sacramento's longest-tenured player, was asked if he feels anything different heading into the big game. 

“Nah. Not at all,” Fox said after Kings shootaround Monday morning. “I think it’s going to be rowdy, I think it’s going to be fun. But from a preparation standpoint, it’s no different.” 

The 25-year-old returned to practice Monday after exiting Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns early and missing the entirety of Saturday’s Utah Jazz game with right hamstring soreness. He was all smiles as he returned to the mix and said he doesn’t expect a minutes restriction for Monday’s game. 

And while Fox did acknowledge the significance of the game, he isn’t satisfied with just a playoff berth. 

“The goal is never to just make the playoffs,” Fox said. “I think it’s a milestone, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Veteran forward Harrison Barnes seconded that notion and is staying focused on his goal of 50 wins on the season. 

Heading into Monday’s matchup, the Kings hold a 45-29 record, good enough for third in the West and two games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 2 seed. With eight regular-season contests remaining, Barnes is looking forward to winning more than just Monday’s game. 

“I think for us, it’s just a matter of continuing to get better,” Barnes said after shootaround. “We’re trying to get 50 [wins], we’re going to have home court in the playoffs, so things like that. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s been a long season for us, and we’ve definitely had our ups and downs. 

“I think it's just another step in the right direction.” 

The discipline instilled in this young and mostly inexperienced squad is attributed to coach Mike Brown and the culture he helped restore in the 916. 

And like Brown, Barnes knows what it takes to make a deep playoff run and win an NBA championship. 

“It doesn’t add any extra pressure for us,” Barnes said of the stakes for Monday’s game. “I think more so it’s about us winning the game. We could clinch before the game ends, but we still have a game to go out there and finish. It’s a special moment, but we obviously need a win.”  

The Kings can clinch their highly awaited playoff berth in a couple of different ways Monday: A win vs. Minnesota, a Phoenix Suns loss to the Utah Jazz or a Los Angeles Clippers loss to the Chicago Bulls. Just one of those needs to happen. 

Phoenix’s tip-off (6 p.m. PT) is scheduled one hour before Sacramento’s, so the Kings could clinch a spot in the postseason before their game vs. the Timberwolves ends. Regardless, the 18,000-plus fans in attendance at G1C will react accordingly. 

When it happens and however it happens -- both Fox and Barnes know the place will be rocking as emotional Sacramento fans deservingly celebrate. 

“Oh yeah, I mean, I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Barnes said. “I don’t know what I’ll see, but it’s going to be nuts … For us to have that moment at home with our fans, I think that’s special.” 

“You already know it’s going to be crazy,” Fox added. “You definitely know it’s going to be a great night.

“You can drive up and down anywhere between downtown and midtown and you’ll see a sign that says, ‘Light the beam.’ … you definitely feel the energy throughout the city.” 

For so long, and for the entirety of Fox’s NBA career, Kings fans sat on their couches and watched other teams battle for the title. It has been nearly two decades, but all that patience is about to pay off. 

Fox is grateful to the fans and issued a heartfelt message to them ahead of Monday’s game. 

“For me personally, I'm extremely appreciative,” Fox said. “They brought me in like one of their own. It’s been six years, people saw me when I came in the league at 19, they see who I am at 25 now. 

“I just want to say thank you for being along this journey with me, but like I said, we have a lot more things to accomplish.”

And when you thought a storybook season couldn’t get any more special, Kings rookie Keegan Murray is on track to make NBA history as all-time leader in 3-pointers made by a rookie. He needs just four more triples to pass Donovan Mitchell’s record. 

RELATED: Kerr thrilled Kings, Brown set to end NBA playoff drought

If there’s any indication that the rookie is ready for the big night, Fox spilled the beans and said Murray got a haircut in anticipation of the special moment. 

“Oh yeah, he got a haircut just now so he knows he’s going to break the record,” Fox said, laughing. “I think he’s ready for the photo op.”  

There are a lot of special things happening in Sacramento this season, and the best part is it doesn’t seem like they’ll end anytime soon. 
 

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