Sacramento Kings

The Kings are left to wonder after another close fight ends with an opponent’s win

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, right, dunks on Kings big man Harry Giles III on Friday in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, right, dunks on Kings big man Harry Giles III on Friday in Philadelphia. AP

It’s been an unfortunate but common theme for the Kings.

Play hard. Play fast. Fall behind big, then have to rally. Build a big lead, but let it slip.

They’ve put together a string of competitive games over the last month, but more times than not the result has been a loss.

That was the case again Friday, when the Kings lost 123-114 to the 76ers to end their four-game East Coast trip with a 1-3 record. Despite being in each game lately, the loss was their third in a row.

“We’re playing hard, we’re playing the right way, we’re playing together,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “The wins are going to come.”

That could start Sunday, when the Kings (33-35) host a four-game home stand that includes three sub-.500 teams.

They will open with an afternoon game against the Chicago Bulls (19-51). Sacramento has won three in a row in the series, including a 108-89 victory Dec. 11 at United Center in which the Kings rallied from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter.

“We need that momentum, we need that comfort,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said of playing at home.

It’s been a rough trend for the Kings (33-35). After a season-long six-game home stand ended with a 5-1 mark Feb. 10, they’ve gone 3-9 in a tough stretch where all the losses except one came against teams expected to make the playoffs. In five of those setbacks, they surrendered leads of at least 10 points.

On Friday they were the team rallying from double-digit deficits. They came back from 10 points down in the first quarter and 13 behind in the third to take the lead. However, they were never up by more than two, and once the 76ers went back in front midway through the third, the Kings could only get within three.

It’s not for a lack of effort.

“Our guys are playing hard together and they’re fighting,” Joerger said. “I’d love nothing more for them to get a win.”

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown was concerned about that possibility before the game. Coming in, the Kings had won four in a row over a team that’s heading to its second consecutive playoff appearance.

“We have struggled with them in the past,” Brown said. “We come into this game with deserved respect for Sacramento.”

The 76ers’ starters did the most damage, as all five went for at least 18 points, led by Jimmy Butler’s 22.

Philadelphia (44-25) is impressed with the Kings.

“They’ve got a lot of great young players, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “Hard to guard, can really score the basketball.”

“I look forward to projecting that team out in two or three years,” Brown said. “I think they have some legitimate pieces.”

The Kings say they’re close. They just have to figure out how to put it all together.

“We’re right there,” Hield said. “It might not be this year. It could be this year. We’re not getting blown out. Maybe we need another piece. Maybe we just need growth. We’ve just got to figure out how to get the W.”

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.