The chatter in the Kings’ locker room has changed during the last week.
The players wondered how the Portland Trail Blazers were doing and whether the Denver Nuggets won. That’s because entering Wednesday night’s game against the Trail Blazers at Moda Center, the Kings were eighth in the Western Conference with a 14-17 record.
As the season nears the midway mark, the Kings are talking about playoff possibilities if they continue to improve. Entering Wednesday, Sacramento was one game ahead of Denver and two ahead of Portland for the West’s final postseason spot.
Coach Dave Joerger hasn’t talked much publicly about the postseason, focusing on building the team’s foundation. But the Kings have gone 10 seasons without reaching the playoffs, and for most of that stretch, the postseason has been a pipe dream by January.
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Nevertheless, Joerger doesn’t shudder over his players’ postseason dialogue.
“I think it’s good for our franchise, our organization to have the interest from within and the strive, the desire and the passion, a lot of our fans have screamed for, for years,” Joerger said.
A four-game winning streak helped push the Kings into the eighth spot and produced some good vibes after two four-game skids.
After beating the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, the Kings said Wednesday’s game would be even more important because of the standings.
“It’s a good feeling,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “It’s good to be able to wake up in the morning and not have so much stress on your head. We’re in a great place. We have a great opportunity now, but we all know it can end like that.”
That was the case last season, when the Kings flirted with climbing into the top eight in the West before things fell apart amid player strife and drama with coach George Karl.
The Kings succumbed to their dysfunction last season, but they now feel better equipped to stay the course.
“I think we’ve got a good group,” Cousins said. “I think we’re on the same page. I think everybody’s intentions are pure. There was a lot of other BS going on, a lot of secret intentions, whatever the case may be, last year, and I don’t think that’s the case this year.”
Joerger said he recently spoke to a neighbor who no longer had season tickets but was intrigued by this season’s team. The losing and instability in the organization have turned off fans for years, but Joerger said his neighbor noticed a difference.
“ ‘Whether you guys are winning or losing, you guys are going out and competing every night. We want to think about getting season tickets next year,’ ” Joerger said his neighbor told him. “That stuff is going to roll itself into future success in the next couple of years.”
First, the Kings must get through this season. A lot must happen before the playoffs can become reality.
“I don’t want to get too high, get too low, play at a steady pace, take it one game at a time and my main focus is just getting better every night as a team, regardless if it’s a win or a loss,” Cousins said.
“Learn from these wins. There’s still a lot of mistakes being made in these wins, and if we do come across a loss, learn from that as well.”
More fury – Karl angered some more people during the publicity tour for his book, “Furious George.”
In a Q&A with New York Magazine, Karl took a shot at Portland All-Star guard Damian Lillard and off-court branding.
“I was watching the Portland Trail Blazers play, and I was trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with this team?” Karl said. “My conclusion is that Damian Lillard is getting too much attention.”
Karl said coach Terry Stotts is “great” and not the problem in Portland. Karl helped Stotts get his start in coaching, but Stotts stood up for Lillard.
“I owe a lot to George,” Stotts said. “I got my start in coaching with George. I wouldn’t be here if not for him. But when it comes to my team and my players, he needs to stay in his own lane.”
Out – Kings forward Rudy Gay (strained right hip flexor) did not travel to Portland. A precautionary MRI was negative, and he’s listed as day-to-day. Gay has missed seven of the last eight games. Arron Afflalo (strained right elbow) missed his second consecutive game.
Lillard (sprained ankle) also was out.