Sacramento Kings

Close games and mutual respect: Could the Kings and Warriors form a NorCal rivalry?

Stephen Curry, right, and the Golden State Warriors got past Willie Cauley-Stein and the Kings again Thursday. They won the season series 4-0.
Stephen Curry, right, and the Golden State Warriors got past Willie Cauley-Stein and the Kings again Thursday. They won the season series 4-0. AP

In the 34 seasons the Kings and Golden State Warriors have been Northern California neighbors, they’ve never been good at the same time.

Not only have they never met in the playoffs, they haven’t finished with a .500 or better record in the same season.

You have to go back to March 22, 1977, to find the last time the teams met at least 50 games into a season with winning records – but the Kings were in Kansas City.

Nearly 42 years later, the Kings and Warriors have played four thrillingly close games, but the two-time defending champions have found a way to win. That includes Thursday night, when Golden State held on for a 125-123 victory at Oracle Arena.

“It’s the fourth game that we deserved to lose against this team, but you just figure it out at the end of the games,” said Warriors forward Kevin Durant, who had 28 points and career-high-tying seven blocks. “I like how fast they play. ... They just lack in experience in my opinion. I think they’re going to be one of those teams to be reckoned with soon.”

The Kings have pushed the Warriors in each game, but the result is four losses by a combined 12 points.

“I love their team and love what they are doing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I said it before the game, every time we play them it’s high energy and it’s beautiful basketball. They are tough to guard.”

While the Kings are encouraged to go toe-to-toe with a decorated club that boasts five All-Stars in their starting lineup, they’re not taking any solace in losing.

“There’s no participation trophy over here,” said Kings guard De’Aaron Fox, who had 18 points, eight assists and three steals. “That team has won three championships in the past four years, so they know what they’re doing. They never get discombobulated when they go down. They’re always coming back at us. Once they got the lead, they did what they’re suppose to do.”

Marvin Bagley III had his second big game against the Warriors, this time going for 28 points and 14 rebounds for his 11th double-double. The rookie explained why he’s done so well against them.

“I want to beat them,” he said. “I hate losing to them. We’ve come close every single time. We’ve got to figure out how to get over that hump, but we’re right there. That’s the positive thing about it.”

Stephen Curry knows what it’s like to be a young player wanting to beat an elite opponent.

“For us, I think it was the Lakers,” said Curry, who made 10 3-pointers and scored a game-high 36 points. “My rookie year, it was that 2009-10 championship team that we wanted to get up for every game. We would always play our best, but I think that year it never worked out in our favor, so just one of those games you are excited to play but now being on the other side we understand that we get everybody’s best shot and they want to beat us really bad. ... I definitely have been on the other side of that equation, and I understand what it feels like.”

The Kings (30-28) and Warriors (42-16) won’t play again this season unless Sacramento ends its postseason drought and the teams match up. Entering Friday, the Kings were 1 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and one game up on the 10th-place team. Sacramento is sandwiched between Los Angeles teams, with the Clippers ahead and Lakers trailing.

Both teams have talked about what it would mean to meet in the playoffs.

“It would be crazy,” Fox said. “It would be right down the (freeway), don’t really have to go anywhere. But for us, we’re focused on getting in first. That’s what we’re worried about, taking it one game at a time.”

Fox’s starting backcourt mate feels the Kings are close but still need a bit more experience.

“You look at guys like KD, Steph, Klay (Thompson) and Draymond (Green) – those guys have been in the Finals four times in a row,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. “We have to match their intensity, and that is where we want to be at. We know that we can play with them. ... I think as we keep playing them and keep growing with this team, we will be where they are at in a few years.”

The Warriors have a 2 1/2-game lead on the Denver Nuggets for the top spot in the West, so, while it’s not official, it seems certain they’ll be in the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year. Kerr didn’t make any predictions, but he wouldn’t be surprised to see the Kings again in mid April.

“Who knows what is going to happen down the stretch?” Kerr said. “A lot of really good teams battling for the playoffs, but (the Kings) are really good.”

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Noel Harris is a sports reporter for The Sacramento Bee, with a focus on the Kings. He’s been in professional journalism for more than 18 years. His roles have included sports editor at The Modesto Bee and news editor at two smaller California newspapers, as well as online producer and copy editor.