There are two ways to look at the Kings after their eight-game trip.
The optimist sees a team 2 1/2 games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot, which was held by Portland entering the Kings’ game against the Phoenix Suns at Golden 1 Center on Friday night.
The pessimist sees a team four games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers and Suns, who sit at the bottom of the conference.
The Kings were decidedly a glass half-full crew as they returned home from their longest trip of the season.
The Kings went 3-5 on the trip. Not good enough to make headway in catching Portland, but also not bad enough to declare the season over and focus on the 2017-18 season.
So even with injuries, the Kings believe there is still reason to strive for the playoffs.
“It’s been a good group that has stuck together and are battling pretty well and are playing hard,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger.
The Kings returned to Golden 1 Center for back-to-back games against Phoenix and NBA-leading Golden State.
The Kings not only returned to Sacramento looking for a physical break, but also one from the mental strain of the trip.
The trip began with the team knowing Rudy Gay was lost for the season to a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon. It ended with Garrett Temple limping off the court at Houston’s Toyota Center on Tuesday with a partially torn left hamstring that will keep him out two to three weeks.
In between, the Kings liked their improved ball movement on the trip and the tenacity they displayed to win at Detroit, Cleveland and Charlotte.
A controversial foul in Chicago still irks the Kings because it contributed to a loss, and the Kings blew double-digit leads in losses to Indiana and Philadelphia.
“I’m still confident,” said center DeMarcus Cousins. “And I still believe, maybe two or three games out, we still have a great chance.”
Still, Sacramento has reasons to be concerned beyond the standings.
The Kings had lost 13 of 18 games entering Friday and must establish their identity amid the changes to the roster, such as not knowing if Temple will miss significant time.
“The camaraderie, the chemistry has been good,” Joerger said. “The ball movement has been good, even when we’re losing games.”
But the loss to the Rockets also reminded the team how dependent it is on Cousins for offense. Gay was the Kings’ only other primary scoring option for most of the season.
“We have some work to do,” Joerger said. “We need to figure out how we’re going to score when DeMarcus is out.”
February should be a time to recover and get back on track. The trade deadline is Feb. 23, and if the Kings can’t catch the Nuggets or whoever is eighth in the West by then, they may consider looking to next season.
But that’s not what the Kings are thinking about. They are done with road games in the Eastern Conference and have no games outside California this month.
“It’s tough, man,” Cousins said. “You can’t make excuses. We have to keep pushing and believing and stay positive with everything this team is already doing.”
Note – The Kings were already thin on the perimeter with injuries to Gay, Temple and Omri Casspi. But they were hit with another loss before the game when Arron Afflalo was ruled out due to a stomach virus.
That left Ben McLemore and Malachi Richardson as the only available shooting guards. McLemore started at guard and Matt Barnes at small forward.