Sacramento Kings

‘This one hurts’: The Kings are playing close games, but that might not be enough

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, left, and Kings guard De’Aaron Fox led their teams in scoring Monday at Capital One Arena in Washington.
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, left, and Kings guard De’Aaron Fox led their teams in scoring Monday at Capital One Arena in Washington. AP

The Kings continue to find themselves in close games. It shows that they’re more competitive and further along in their chemistry than expected coming into the season.

The progress has been noticed outside of the organization.

“It seems like every game they’re right there,” said Scott Brooks, coach of the Kings’ most recent opponent, the Washington Wizards.

However, those games haven’t always ended favorably. As a result, it’s taking a toll on the team’s playoff push.

The Kings fell 121-115 to the Wizards on Monday night at Capital One Arena. In nine games since the All-Star break, Sacramento has either had a fourth-quarter lead or been within five in the period. They’re 3-6 in those contests.

While the goal coming into the season was player development, talk of ending the team’s lengthy playoff drought has been dominant for most of this campaign. However, several recent instances of coming up short are adding up.

Kings coach Dave Joerger was frustrated after this loss.

“This game sucks. This one hurts,” he said.

Sacramento entered Monday four games behind the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference. The Kings remain four behind the Jazz, who lost at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but fell 4 1/2 behind the idle Spurs and five behind the Clippers, who rolled at home against the Boston Celtics.

The Wizards, who trail eighth-place Miami by 3 1/2 games in the Eastern Conference, led by 14 in the second quarter and by double digits numerous times.

Forward Harrison Barnes, who has the most playoff experience on the roster, said the Kings (33-33) need to get off to better starts.

“We did not approach the beginning of this game like a game that was live-or-die for us,” he said. “They came out hungrier, they came out with more enthusiasm, with more effort, and honestly, that is unacceptable. As a leader, I have to be better at making sure that we are prepared mentally to be ready to go.

“We have to understand how tight this playoff race is. ... We need to start better.”

Even with another rough opening, as they’ve done all season, the Kings rallied. They took the lead with 2:16 left but couldn’t hold on.

The Kings are not out of the hunt, but with 16 games left, time is running short. Still, they say they’re gaining valuable experience along the way.

“I think it’s always great to go through this,” said guard De’Aaron Fox, who led the Kings with 23 points. “We felt like this was a game that we could get. ... Down the stretch of the season, we’ve got to start buckling down.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Kings. After two days off, they’ll conclude their four-game East Coast trip with a back-to-back set Thursday at Boston and Friday at Philadelphia before heading home for four in a row.

Bradley Beal, an All-Star guard who led the Wizards (28-39) with 27 points, was complimentary of the Kings.

“They are a special ballclub,” he said. “They play in a tough West, but they show up every night and make it tough for everybody. The sky’s the limit for them because they have a lot of talent over there.”

It remains to be seen if that talent is enough to get them playing past April 10.

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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.