They have the best center in the NBA in DeMarcus Cousins. They have the craftiest point guard in the league in Rajon Rondo. They have a proven, year-in, year-out scorer in Rudy Gay. They have a backup point guard in Darren Collison that half a dozen teams would kill for. They have George Karl running the show, for better or worse. They have Quincy Acy. OK, forget about Quincy .. along with the NBA’s most porous defense (allowing 109.1 ppg).
The question/statement that needs to be repeated regarding Sacramento is this: What is it going to be for the Kings? Better, or worse?
Tuesday night’s victory over the Denver Nuggets improved Sacramento’s record to 24-31. They sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, where the top eight teams finally all have records of .500 or better.
With 27 games remaining, they will have to go 17-10 just to make it to the break-even point. And even then, that might not be enough to qualify for the postseason.
But here’s the nice thing (OK, maybe it’s not a nice thing, but it’s a timely thing): We are going to learn what the Sacramento Kings are made out of over the next couple of weeks, beginning tonight when they host the San Antonio Spurs, continuing Friday when they host the Los Angeles Clippers, and then some more next week when they host Oklahoma City on Monday, play a back-to-back against Memphis and Dallas on Wednesday and Thursday, then spend their Saturday night in San Antonio, where they Spurs haven’t lost all season.
Those six games will tell us all we need to know about whether one of the strongest teams in the West, personnel and coaching-wise, is a paper tiger or a sleeping giant.
The victory over Denver was just the second game in nearly two weeks for Sacramento, courtesy of the All-Star break and another layoff. “We’re OK. We better be OK, because our schedule goes crazy,” Karl said.
Let’s take a leap of faith and assume that the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers will maintain their holds on playoff positions in the West. That leaves the Utah Jazz (currently eighth at 28-28), the Houston Rockets (you remember them, right? They went to the Western Conference finals last season) and the Kings as the teams in contention for that final spot.
Sacramento is 2-0 against the Jazz and has clinched the tiebreaker, as the teams meet only one more time. The Kings are 1-2 against Houston and won’t play the Rockets again until the final night of the regular season. If Sacramento were to win that game and somehow end up tied with the Rockets for the eighth spot, the tiebreaker (if it is not a three-way tie with Utah) would be conference record. Right now, Sacto is 12-20 against the West, and Houston is 20-18. So the Kings have no chance on that one, right?
Well, let’s see what they can do over the next half-dozen games. If they go 5-1, as unlikely as that may seem, the conference record would be 17-21, and the overall record would be 29-32. Not fantastic, but light years ahead of where they are now.
Anything less, and we can be fairly certain that George Karl will be out of a job by the end of April, Cousins will be looking for greener pastures by the time June rolls around (cue the line about Danny Ainge’s wheelbarrow full of draft picks), and Rondo will be professing his newfound appreciation for the Triangle offense. Or for Sean Marks’ visionary gifts.
More on the playoff races, along with some remarks on the coaching situations with the Lakers and Knicks, in this video with CineSport’s Noah Coslov:
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.