The Kings are one of two teams remaining in the race for the final bid in the Western Conference play-in tournament going into a must-win game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday.
The New Orleans Pelicans were eliminated from playoff contention with a 125-107 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, leaving the Kings as the only team with a chance to catch the San Antonio Spurs. The Kings (31-38) can only do that if they sweep the Grizzlies (36-33) in a back-to-back set Thursday and Friday at FedExForum in Memphis.
“Our approach is kind of just a day-by-day approach,” Kings forward Maurice Harkless said. “We’re going to maximize every opportunity we have. Every time we step on the floor, we’re going to try to win and get better, and wins come with that.”
Those wins won’t come easy. The Grizzlies are ninth in the West, a half-game behind the Golden State Warriors for eighth, so they still have something to play for with a chance to move into the Seven-Eight Game in the play-in tournament. The Grizzlies have won three in a row and four of their last five. They beat the Dallas Mavericks 133-104 on Tuesday despite the absence of Jonas Valanciunas, who was out due to back soreness.
Valanciunas is questionable for Thursday’s game against the Kings. The 6-foot-11, 265-pound center is averaging 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He had 25 points and 13 rebounds in a 124-110 victory over the Kings on Feb. 14 in Sacramento. He menaced the Kings in other ways as well, breaking Chimezie Metu’s wrist on what coach Luke Walton called a “dangerous” and “dirty” play.
The Kings will be without De’Aaron Fox (health and safety protocols), Tyrese Haliburton (knee) and Robert Woodard II (back). Harrison Barnes (adductor) and Marvin Bagley III (groin) are listed as doubtful. Buddy Hield (ankle) is probable.
Trade-deadline acquisitions Delon Wright, Terence Davis and Harkless have helped the Kings win six of their last seven to stay in the playoff race. They will have to find a way to win again in Memphis if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive and avoid matching the longest postseason drought in NBA history after 15 consecutive losing seasons.
The Kings trail the Spurs (33-36) by two games with three games to play in the regular season. The Spurs won the season series to gain the tiebreaker advantage, so one San Antonio win or Sacramento loss would eliminate the Kings from contention. The Kings have to go 3-0. The Spurs have to go 0-3, which is certainly possible given the daunting schedule they face.
Two must-win games in Memphis will be tough enough, but then the Kings have to close out the regular season against the Utah Jazz on Sunday at Golden 1 Center.
The Jazz (50-20) have the NBA’s best record and a 1½-game lead over the Phoenix Suns for the No. 1 seed in the West. If the Suns lose to the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday and the Jazz beats the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, Utah will have the top seed secured going into Sunday’s game against the Kings. If Phoenix beats Portland and then beats San Antonio on Saturday and Sunday, Utah will have to beat Sacramento to assure itself of the No. 1 seed.
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (ankle) has been ruled out for the remaining regular-season games. Mike Conley (hamstring) has been out since April 26. The Jazz didn’t need either of them to set a single-game franchise scoring record in a 154-105 victory over the Kings on April 28 in Sacramento, the worst home loss in team history.
If Utah has already clinched the No. 1 seed, Jazz coach Quin Snyder might choose to rest players such as Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson. That would be a huge break for the Kings if they haven’t been eliminated by then.
The Spurs will play the New York Knicks on the second night of a back-to-back Thursday after suffering a 128-116 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
The Spurs will wrap up the regular season with another difficult back-to-back set against the Suns on Saturday and Sunday. The Spurs beat the Knicks and Suns earlier this season, but they have lost seven of their last nine games to put their playoff hopes in jeopardy.
The Knicks are tied with the Miami Heat for fifth in the Eastern Conference. They have clinched a playoff berth with no risk of falling into a play-in scenario, but they need a strong finish to secure the No. 5 seed and avoid a probable first-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Mitchell Robinson (foot) is out for the Knicks. Reggie Bullock (ankle), Alec Burks (knee), Immanuel Quickley (ankle) and Derrick Rose (ankle) are all questionable against the Spurs.
The Suns may or may not have something to play for on the final day of the season. They could have a shot at the No. 1 seed, be locked into the No. 2 seed or find themselves in danger of falling behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 3 seed.
Kings: PROBABLE — Buddy Hield (ankle). DOUBTFUL — Marvin Bagley III (groin); Harrison Barnes (adductor). OUT — De’Aaron Fox (health and safety protocols); Tyrese Haliburton (knee); Robert Woodard II (back).
Grizzlies: QUESTIONABLE — Jonas Valanciunas (back). OUT — Grayson Allen (abdominal soreness); Sean McDermott (foot).
May 13 at Memphis Grizzlies, 5 p.m.
May 14 at Memphis Grizzlies, 6 p.m.
May 16 vs. Utah Jazz, TBD