After 16 years, the drought is finally over.
On Wednesday, March 29, the Sacramento Kings dominated the Portland Trail Blazers on the road, 120-80, improving their season record to 46-30 and clinching a playoff spot in the process. It is the first time the Kings have made the playoffs since the 2005-06 season.
“It’s amazing, it’s been a great year,” said Sacramento’s three-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis in a postgame interview following the playoff-clinching victory. “We’ve all worked and contributed to this… We’re just excited for what’s left to come.”
Sabonis scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Portland, his league-leading 62nd double-double of the season. A great all-around team performance, the game was a microcosm of Sacramento’s season as a whole.
Five players notched at least 10 points for a team that leads the NBA in scoring (121.0 points per game). The Kings made 18 three-pointers for a team that is top-10 in both three-point percentage and three-pointers per game (37.2% and 13.8, respectively). They totaled a stellar 120 points, 30 assists, and only eight turnovers for an offense that currently boasts the highest rating in NBA history on that side of the ball (118.8 points per 100 possessions).
Speaking of history, the game saw Sacramento’s rookie forward Keegan Murray set an NBA record.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell was the previous record holder for three-pointers made in a rookie season with 187, which he set in 2017-18 with the Utah Jazz. But with 6:44 left in the third quarter of Wednesday’s matchup, Murray caught the ball in the left corner, took a quick dribble to his right before stepping back and knocking down his third three-pointer of the night, giving the fourth-overall pick from the 2022 NBA Draft the record. Murray has 188 three-pointers on 40.7% shooting with six games to go.
Head Coach Mike Brown gave the Iowa product his flowers during the postgame press conference, “Breaking any type of record at the highest level in anything you do is absolutely amazing, and to see Keegan (Murray) do that tonight, with the way he’s played all year and how hard he’s worked, was an amazing feat. You don’t take that for granted… I’m just so proud of him.”
Brown’s impact on Sacramento’s turnaround can not be overstated. After most recently serving as an assistant on the Golden State Warriors’ coaching staff, the former Coach of the Year (2009) was hired by owner Vivek Ranadive and General Manager Monte McNair to bring the passion and intensity that Sacramento was in desperate need of.
Murray had this to say about Brown, the current favorite for NBA Coach of the Year, “He’s a championship coach… He knew that inside our locker room, we were much more than a playoff team. We all knew that from the start, so any expectations that anyone had (of) us, we had more.”
General Manager Monte McNair deserves credit for the Kings turnaround as well. Murray (his first year in Sacramento) and Sabonis (his first full-season in Sacramento after being acquired last year) are two of the many new faces for a Kings team, as McNair was hard at work this past off-season with numerous impact trades and signings.
Other notable additions include sharpshooter Kevin Huerter (17 points on Wednesday, third on the team in scoring with 15.4 points per game) and sixth-man guard Malik Monk (team-leading 19 points on Wednesday, 13.5 points per game coming off the bench this season).
In All-Star guard De’Aaron Fox’s postgame comments, the current longest-tenured King acknowledged the weight of breaking Sacramento’s playoff drought while also making it known that the team has had larger aspirations all along, “It feels good, you know, just getting that horse off your back… We want to do bigger things but I mean, 16 years, that’s a long time. It feels great just being able to get that off of us.”
As it stands, Sacramento is one of only three Western Conference teams that has secured a playoff berth. They sit at 47-31 with only four games left, with a comfortable lead over the Phoenix Suns for the third seed while still alive for the second seed (trailing the Memphis Grizzlies by two games).
The historic playoff drought is finally over. Sacramento Kings fans have waited a long time to see their favorite team back in the postseason. With that out of the way, all eyes are on the surprise team of the season to see if they can turn this great story into a long playoff-run.
Update (4/11/23): The Sacramento Kings ended the regular season with a win-loss record of 48-34, their most wins since the 2004-05 season. Their offensive rating of 118.6 is the highest in NBA history. They finished with the third-best record in the Western Conference, and will face the six-seed and defending champion Golden State Warriors in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.