Playoffs? Are we talking about playoffs?
The Sacramento Kings haven’t given up on the notion of snapping the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought. But losses like the one against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night make the talk, well, nothing more than talk.
If you want to be a playoff team, you can’t blow 19-point third-quarter leads. You can’t turn the ball over in crucial moments, and when you get a late 3-point opportunity and no one is within 15 feet of you, you have to hit the shot.
Sacramento had the playoff-bound Thunder on the ropes. OKC has been one of the best teams in Western Conference since November. The Kings had them in their clutches and then the Thunder dictated the final 19 minutes of the game.
That is exactly what a playoff-bound team does. They measure the will of their opponent and they adjust accordingly.
The Kings aren’t a playoff team today, although they still have an opportunity to become one. If that is the goal and what the team is entirely focused on in the final 24 games of the season, they can’t have let-downs like they did in the final quarter and a half against the Thunder.
«Disappointing loss,» Luke Walton told media members following the team’s 112-108 defeat. «We gave a really nice effort. Give Oklahoma City some credit. They really picked up that defensive intensity. We didn’t do a good enough job of keeping our composure from the third quarter on. We had our chances, but unfortunately, we couldn’t find a way to close that out. Give them a lot of credit. That’s a really good team over there.»
There are no more moral victories. If the Kings lost to the Thunder in a wire-to-wire tight ballgame, that’s one thing. But to have a team like this on the ropes and not give the knockout blow?
Those moments are over. The Kings have a stack of shoulda-coulda-woulda games from the first 50 games of the season. From here on out, when they have a lead, they need to finish the game off or stop talking about that «P word» they don’t quite understand.
Yes, the Kings played without De’Aaron Fox. Yes, they played without their starting center Richaun Holmes and forward Marvin Bagley has played a total of 13 games on the season. Those are reasons why you get destroyed by 20.
At some point, the club has to take responsibility for the fact that they are in contention for a playoff berth for the first time in over a decade and that means stepping up when the chips are down.
Bogdan Bogdanovic can’t shoot 4-of-14 from the field. He can’t miss crucial shots and he certainly can’t step out of bounds or give the ball away off the dribble in crunch time.
Buddy Hield can’t ask why he’s getting pulled from a game after committing offensive fouls, turning the ball over in fast break opportunities and missing wide open 3-pointers that could have changed the outcome of the game.
It takes a team effort to win each and every night in the NBA and the Kings are still trying to find their rhythm.
If Sacramento wants to change the conversation regarding their team and their franchise, they have to take advantage of every opportunity. They can’t give up a 19-point second half lead or get into the bonus three minutes and 37 seconds into the fourth quarter, and expect to win.
Sacramento will get another opportunity to claw within three games of the No. 8 seed on Friday night when they face a depleted Grizzlies team. The Kings aren’t out of the chase, but they have to take advantage of every game.
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One loss to the Thunder may just be a hiccup in the Kings’ push to the postseason. It could also be the reason they aren’t in the playoffs.
No more excuses. Win the games you should, and when you have a team on the ropes, put someone on the canvas and don’t let them get back up.
Kings show playoff dreams are premature with blown opportunity in OKC originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area