Out to end playoff drought, Kings visit Blazers

Field Level Media

March 29, 2023 at 12:36 am.

The Sacramento Kings came up empty in their initial attempt to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006.

The Kings will take another shot to end the longest postseason drought in professional sports when they visit the downtrodden Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Sacramento (45-30) is on the cusp of ending that ugly 16-season drought but was unable to seal the deal Monday night when it fell 119-115 to the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Yeah, I mean guys wanted to clinch a playoff spot at home and wanted to share it with our fans,” All-Star point guard De’Aaron Fox said after the setback. “But at the end of the day, regardless of where we do it at, I think people are going to appreciate it and people are going to love it.”

Clinching against Portland (32-43) feels like a formality as this is the first of back-to-back games versus the Trail Blazers.

There’s also the fact that Portland has dropped nine of its past 10 games and will be without star guard Damian Lillard (calf), who was shut down for the season, according to a report by Bleacher Report.

Lillard averaged 32.2 points, 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 58 games this season.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes would have liked to see the home fans celebrate the milestone, but he sees the bigger picture too.

“It’s just changing the mindset of not just trying to clinch and then the season’s over,” Barnes said. “For us, it’s continuing to just get better every single game. We have aspirations of a good postseason. So for us, it’s focusing on that and just keeping it one game at a time.

“Like I said, (Monday) was a missed opportunity, but you know, we have another game in a couple of days and (we’re) just focusing and preparing for that.”

Fox scored 29 points against Minnesota and fellow All-Star Domantas Sabonis added 24 points and 10 rebounds. However, the Kings were just 5 of 27 from 3-point range and had only 16 assists to the Timberwolves’ 33.

Keegan Murray was 1 of 6 from 3-point range but tied Lillard (185) for the second-most 3-pointers by a rookie in NBA history. Donovan Mitchell holds the record of 187, set in 2017-18 when he was a member of the Utah Jazz.

While the Kings, who are in third place in the Western Conference, are looking forward to the postseason, Portland is playing out the remainder of a second straight disappointing season.

The Trail Blazers were on the outside of the play-in tournament race even before they recently bottomed out.

But they weren’t even competitive in Monday’s 124-90 home loss against the New Orleans Pelicans when Lillard and fellow starters Jerami Grant (quadriceps), Jusuf Nurkic (knee) and Anfernee Simons (foot) all sat out.

Portland trailed 30-12 before the contest was 10 minutes old and was down 58-35 at halftime. The deficit eventually grew to 36.

“I wasn’t concerned about the effort. I thought we played hard,” Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “… That’s a team that’s on a mission. They’re playing very well, and they just kicked our butt.”

Rookie Shaedon Sharpe fell back to earth against New Orleans after putting together the top three games of his career — including 29 points in Sunday’s 118-112 loss to Oklahoma City Thunder.

Sharpe averaged 25.7 points during the stretch but had two points through three quarters against the Pelicans before scoring 10 in garbage time. His 12 points came on 5-of-13 shooting.

Nassir Little, who scored a season-high 28 points against Oklahoma City, had just seven on 3-of-10 shooting.

Keon Johnson matched his career high of 20 points to lead the depleted Trail Blazers against the Pelicans.

“Most of these guys that are out there right now, they weren’t planning on being out there this time of year,” Billups said. “So they’re grateful and thankful for the opportunity. And I feel like they’re doing a pretty good job with it.”

The Kings and Trail Blazers split two meetings earlier this season.

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