Facing last-place Spurs, Kings look to move up standings

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 11:48 PM

The Sacramento Kings are 31-23 after 54 games for the second consecutive season.

But last season, Sacramento was in third place in the Western Conference en route to ending a 16-season streak of missing the playoffs. This season, the Kings are just eighth in the West entering Thursday night’s home matchup against the San Antonio Spurs.

The contest is the first after the All-Star break for both the Western Conference-worst Spurs and Kings.

Sacramento stands 1 1/2 games out of a top-six playoff spot with 28 games left in the regular season.

“We don’t want to be in the play-in,” Kings star De’Aaron Fox said Tuesday of the round for teams that finish seventh through 10th. “No team wants to be in the play-in. I think that’s made the league that much more competitive.”

The West is certainly fierce with six teams having won 60 percent of their games. Another example of toughness is that the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets have only the fourth-best mark.

Sacramento limped into the All-Star break with four losses in six games. The two victories were against the Nuggets, including a 102-98 road triumph on Feb. 14 to conclude play before the break.

Fox found a large dose of encouragement in those victories as the team gets ready to embark on the final third of the season.

“I feel confident,” Fox said. “Obviously, the last game that we played, I think we did a great job on the defensive side of the ball. So continue to focus on that and control the things that we can control.”

Fox wasn’t selected to play in the All-Star Game despite averaging a career-high 26.8 points per game and already setting a career best with 141 3-pointers.

Fox has recorded six of his 12 career 40-point outings this season, and one was a 43-point effort in a 129-120 road win over the Spurs on Nov. 17. He also had eight rebounds and seven assists as the Kings beat San Antonio for the sixth time in the past seven meetings.

Spurs rookie big man Victor Wembanyama had 27 points and nine rebounds in his first career outing against Sacramento.

Wembanyama has lived up to his billing as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft by averaging 20.5 points, 10 rebounds and an NBA-leading 3.2 blocked shots per game (156 total).

In San Antonio’s second-to-last game before the All-Star break, Wembanyama blocked 10 shots (most in the NBA this season) to go with 27 points and 14 rebounds for his second career triple-double in a 122-99 road win over the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 12.

Wembanyama didn’t make the All-Star team roster but was in Indianapolis to compete in the Rising Stars game and the Skills Challenge.

He said the trip was well worth it.

“There are some guys who have gone through similar things as me, a similar path,” Wembanyama said. “The stars and the best show a lot of respect because they know what I’m going through. It’s great to see some guys are good people more than being good players.”

The one downside was the obvious one.

“It would have been even greater if I was on the All-Star team but it is a great experience to have,” Wembanyama said.

Despite Wembanyama’s stellar first season, the Spurs are limping along with an 11-44 record.

San Antonio has dropped eight of its past nine games, including six by double digits. The Spurs closed play before the break with a 116-93 road loss against the Dallas Mavericks.

San Antonio played five straight road games to end the break and the visit to Sacramento is part of four more away contests until its next home game on Feb. 29 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

–Field Level Media