Just over a week ago, the Kings’ outlook appeared bleak.
Small forward Rudy Gay, the team’s second-best player, was lost for the season with a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon. The Kings went on to lose to the Indiana Pacers at Golden 1 Center and end their homestand with a 1-6 record.
Next was an eight-game trip that – if all went poorly – could force the Kings to begin thinking about the NBA draft in June.
But the Kings are 2-2 on the trip with back-to-back wins over Detroit and Cleveland. Including their loss at Chicago, in which a controversial foul might have cost Sacramento the game, the Kings have three consecutive solid outings.
Despite losing Gay, the Kings remain motivated to reach the playoffs, even if cynics snicker at the notion of an 18-27 team advancing. Still, the Kings are 10th in the Western Conference, 1 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.
2-2 Kings’ record on their eight-game trip
And unlike recent Kings teams that would have folded after a major injury, this group has resolve.
“Nothing’s really changed from a week ago,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “Guys have good chemistry, they like each other, the locker room is fine. ... We’re trying to build and be better on a nightly basis in some areas.”
The team’s rotation is still in flux with Gay out and small forward Omri Casspi on the bench with a calf injury.
Arron Afflalo has been playing small forward, compensating for his 6-foot-5 height with strength. Center Willie Cauley-Stein has become more important off the bench, and rookie guard Malachi Richardson is playing a bigger role.
“We’ve still got 13, 14 other guys in this locker room,” said center-forward DeMarcus Cousins. “As long as we’re able to fight, we’re going to fight. That’s one thing about this team – we don’t stop fighting. Rudy’s a huge piece of this team – it (stinks) that he’s gone and he can’t join us on the floor – but it’s just an opportunity for the next man. I think you’re seeing that. Guys are stepping up, and we’re going to keep fighting.”
Despite their recent improvement, the Kings have dropped 10 of 14 games since winning four straight in late December. But the playoff race in the West remains tight, with four losing teams within 2 1/2 games of Denver.
We’ve still got 13, 14 other guys in this locker room. As long as we’re able to fight, we’re going to fight. That’s one thing about this team – we don’t stop fighting. Rudy’s a huge piece of this team – it (stinks) that he’s gone and he can’t join us on the floor – but it’s just an opportunity for the next man. I think you’re seeing that. Guys are stepping up, and we’re going to keep fighting.
Kings forward-center DeMarcus Cousins, on Rudy Gay’s season-ending injury
That keeps the Kings motivated.
“We’re NBA players, we’re playing the best game in the world, we’re making a great living, and we still have a chance to get in the playoffs,” said guard Garrett Temple. “It’s not like we’re eight or 10 games back. We have a chance, and we have a talented team. No matter what, we know we have the pieces, even without the great player that Rudy is, to make a run and get to where we want to be.”