SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings might just be riding the beam all the way to the NBA playoffs.
The resurgent Kings are on the verge of ending the longest postseason drought in league history, with first-year coach Mike Brown employing a fast-paced offense led by the dynamic duo of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis to put Sacramento in first place in the Pacific Division.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s great because it’s my first time,” Fox said of being in the playoff hunt. “This is something we want to make annual. We want to be contending for a title. … It’s great for the city and organization. We still want bigger things for ourselves.”
The Kings (43-29) are in third place in the Western Conference and might be able to clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2006 during the final three games of a four-game homestand that ends Monday night against Minnesota.
The 16 seasons without a playoff berth are the longest in NBA history and the longest active postseason drought among any team in the NBA, NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball.
“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. “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 punctuated 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.
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.
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.”
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report