The Sacramento Kings have finally put an end to the longest NBA playoff drought in league history, as the team returns to the postseason for the first time in 16 years by securing their spot with a blowout win against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Sacramento thumped Portland, 120-80, on Wednesday to impressively lock the third seed of the Western Conference, with six games left to play in the regular season.
The Kings wouldn’t be where they are this year without forward Keegan Murray, who swished a 3-pointer during the third quarter against the Trail Blazers to set the NBA rookie record with 188 treys in a season.
Murray’s 3-pointer with 6:44 left in the quarter allowed him to break the previous mark set by Donovan Mitchell in 2017-18 when he was a member of the Utah Jazz.
The trey was Murray’s third of the game. Murray entered the contest tied for second in 3-pointers by a rookie, as Damian Lillard made 185 for the Trail Blazers in 2012-13.
The Sacramento Kings have finally ended their 16-year playoff drought with a win vs. Portland
Kings forward Keegan Murray (L) set a new NBA rookie record with 188 3-pointers in a season
Kings fans went into overdrive after the 120-80 road win, as they partied outside Golden 1 Center to celebrate their team’s return to the playoffs after a 16-year absence
LIGHT THE BRIGHTEST OF BEAMS: Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center was as purple as ever after Wednesday night’s blowout win. Each win at home is punctuated with the lighting of the beam
Murray has the highest 3-point field-goal percentage (40.7 percent entering Wednesday) for a rookie who had at least 400 long-range attempts. Saddiq Bey is second on that list after hitting 38 percent for the Detroit Pistons in 2020-21.
Murray, the fourth overall draft pick last year out of Iowa, entered the night with averages of 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 73 games (71 starts).
Portland was depleted with regular starters Damian Lillard (right calf), Jusuf Nurkic (right knee), Anfernee Simons (right foot) and Jerami Grant (left quad) all nursing injuries. It got a bit worse for Portland on Wednesday when Keon Johnson, who had 20 points in a loss to New Orleans on Monday, broke a finger in shootaround. Only seven Blazers played.
The Kings are 22-14 on the road this season, third-best in the NBA. And they’ve avoided extended losing streaks: The team’s longest came at the start of the season when the Kings opened with four straight.
‘I think every experience that we’ve gone through this year can help translate [to the playoffs],’ Kings coach Mike Brown said. ‘But I’m telling you, we’ll experience it in the playoffs at another level. And every round you advance in the playoffs, it’s going to even take it up another notch.’
Sacramento could have sealed up the playoff spot earlier in the night, but the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Memphis Grizzlies 141-132. Rookie Shaedon Sharpe had 30 points for the Blazers, who have lost four straight and 10 of their last 11 games. The loss to the Kings eliminated Portland from playoff contention.
The Kings have not just ended the longest amount of time that a NBA franchise has gone through without a playoff appearance, but also the longest active postseason drought among any team in the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB.
‘I do feel that that group believes in themselves, not just because I’m telling them they’re good, but because they’ve actually gone out and proven it time after time after time, whether it’s individually in certain situations or collectively as a team,’ Brown said before Wednesday’s win.
Domantas Sabonis had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Kings. The 26-year-old has played a crucial part in the Kings’ success this season, averaging 19.2 points per game
Fifth-year guard De’Aaron Fox had 18 points against Portland, averaging 25.3 points per game this season, as he too played an important role in Sacramento’s journey to the West’s third seed
‘When you have a team that believes, they can be dangerous. You’ve got a connected team that believes, they can be a very dangerous team and that’s what our group is right now.’
The Kings are also one of the best feel-good stories of the NBA this season with an entertaining style of basketball that leads the league in scoring at 120.9 points per game for the highest mark in the league since 1983-84.
Each win at home is accentuated with the lighting of the beam — a beam of light from purple lasers atop the Golden 1 Center — and fans have even chanted for the beam at road games around the country.
‘There’s like a playoff atmosphere every night,’ swingman Kevin Huerter, one of the key offseason acquisitions, said after a recent home win. ‘The only thing that’s missing is handing out the T-shirts and maybe some towels, whatever they’re doing for the playoffs. But it really is this every night.’
The Kings have been one of the most success-starved franchises since moving to Sacramento in 1985. They had a losing record in each of their first 14 seasons in California, winning just one playoff game.
That all changed in 1999 when general manager Geoff Petrie and coach Rick Adelman built a winner around players like Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic that played an entertaining style in a grind-it-out era that nearly delivered a championship.
The Kings posted eight straight winning records and playoff berths under Adelman, but lost a heartbreaking seven-game series to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002 and then saw their title hopes derailed the following year when Webber went down with a serious knee injury in the second round of the playoffs.
Adelman kept the team competitive through 2006 but was let go following a second straight first-round playoff exit.
The Kings haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006, when team had the likes of Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin playing
Kings head coach Mike Brown has managed to implement a potent offense in his first season
Then the dark era began with 16 straight losing seasons under 11 coaches, an ownership change and fears that the city would lose its only major pro team to Seattle.
Vivek Ranadive bought the team from the Maloof family in 2013 and kept the team in Sacramento by building a downtown arena, but there was no on-court success until this year.
The Kings traded away star DeMarcus Cousins and botched several high draft picks. But they have been revived following last year’s trade with Indiana that sent promising guard Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana for a playmaking big man in Sabonis and the decision to hire Brown as coach.
Sabonis proved to be the perfect piece to team with the speedy Fox, giving Sacramento a dynamic duo.
Fox is averaging 25.4 points per game and has been the best clutch scorer in the league this season, scoring double figures in the fourth quarter a league-high 25 times.
Kings fans initially thought the team was going through another rebuild when Sacramento’s front office traded away Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers
Sabonis, acquired in a controversial trade from Indiana midway through last season for promising guard Tyrese Haliburton, has been the perfect piece to team with Fox with his playmaking ability as a big man.
Sabonis is averaging 19 points, 12.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists with 12 triple-doubles.
Add in outside shooting from Huerter and rookie Keegan Murray, the veteran presence of Harrison Barnes and scoring off the bench from Malik Monk and the Kings have gained the attention of other contenders.
‘Give a lot of credit to Mike Brown,’ Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. ‘He has the guys playing a lot better. Fox is playing at an All-NBA level. Sabonis has been great for them. They play with so much pace. All those guys have a lot more confidence.
‘When you’re playing with confidence, it naturally opens things up for the individual and the group.’
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