Kings can make a genuine push for No. 1 seed in Western Conference as Nuggets lose fourth straight

The Sacramento Kings haven’t made the NBA playoffs since Herbert Hoover’s presidency. The NBA was still using peach baskets at the time and the No. 1 movie in America was just grainy footage of a man in a top hat riding a penny farthing. Okay, this is a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. Sacramento hasn’t seen postseason basketball in a long, long time. If you would’ve promised their fans a No. 10 seed before the season, they would have been thrilled. As the season has progressed, it has become clear that their seed is going to be a whole lot higher. In fact, we might have to drop the zero from that number “10.”

That’s right, folks. With roughly four weeks of basketball remaining, the Sacramento Kings have a genuine chance to earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The odds, to be quite clear, are quite small. But the Denver Nuggets, who have now lost four straight games, have opened the door slightly. The Kings, winners of eight of their last 10, will have a chance to barge through that opening.

Here’s where we stand on March 14: the Nuggets lead the Kings by five games. However, that margin is only four games in the loss column, giving Sacramento slightly more control over their pursuit. Technically, the Grizzlies remain one game ahead of the Kings in the standings, but with Ja Morant’s status unclear, it’s probably safe to assume they aren’t going to seriously push for home-court advantage unless he returns sooner than expected.

But the Kings have their entire roster healthy and at their disposal. They have the Western Conference’s best record and net rating since the All-Star break. They also have an easier schedule down the stretch than the Nuggets do.

Only five of Denver’s last 13 games are at home, where the Nuggets have a 30-6 record this season. Sacramento’s schedule is similarly road-heavy, but the Kings are the only Western Conference team with a record above .500 on the road (19-13). Eight of Denver’s last 13 games are against teams currently seeded in the top six in the Western Conference, including two road games in Phoenix on or after March 31, when Kevin Durant may have returned. Sacramento has only five games left against teams in the top six in either conference, and their matchup with Phoenix comes a week before Denver’s first one. They’re likelier to avoid Durant. Sacramento gets to play its hardest remaining opponents (Boston, Phoenix, and Golden State) at home.

Should this grow into a close race, we must point out how both of these teams end their seasons. On April 9, the final day of the regular season, the Nuggets will host the Kings in a game the NBA likely didn’t expect to hold such weight. Not only will it be the second day of a back-to-back for Denver, but it will be their third game in four nights, with the first two coming on the road. Sacramento plays on Friday, April 7, but it’s a home game, and they don’t play on Saturday, April 8. They should enter that contest well-rested. The winner of that game earns the tiebreaker over the loser, should a tiebreaker prove necessary.

The odds here are still slim. Making up a four-game gap in the loss column with 13 to play is no easy task. But something is clearly going on in Denver that demands further examination. Denver’s last four games have come against offenses ranked 29th, 24th, 15th, and 11th (though, Brooklyn has ranked 22nd since trading Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant). The Nuggets still managed to surrender an average of 123 points per game during their losing streak.

Star point guard Jamal Murray, listed as questionable on Tuesday’s injury report, has shot 23-of-73 (31.5%) from the field in those four consecutive losses, leading to questions about his health as he has ramped up following the torn ACL that kept him out all of last season. Deadline addition Thomas Bryant, brought in to fix Denver’s ghastly backup center situation, has a minus-18.9 net rating since joining the team.

These are not insurmountable problems. Murray has, at times, looked like an All-Star this season. Bryant might just need time to acclimate to his new surroundings. Denver’s defense ranked ninth in the NBA between Dec. 1 and March 1. The Nuggets will likely still hold onto the No. 1 seed. They may still be the Western Conference favorite.

But they are sliding at the worst possible time, and the Kings are simultaneously ascending. If the Nuggets aren’t careful, Sacramento is going to make a serious push for the No. 1 seed that they’ve held for most of the season. 



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