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Building a path to the playoffs for the Sacramento Kings

Let's break things down a bit, shall we?

On Friday afternoon, the Sacramento Kings will play their first meaningful basketball in over four months. As they take on the San Antonio Spurs in Orlando, they'll embark on the most important eight-game stretch in more than a decade, thanks to the NBA's revamped playoff structure in Florida.

Unlike a typical season, in which a team like Sacramento would be desperately trying to catch the Memphis Grizzlies, who currently hold a 3.5 game lead in the win-loss column, the Kings must instead take care of business on two different, complex fronts. First, while they'll no longer be required to surpass the eighth seed to lay claim to the final playoff spot, they must instead hover within four games of eighth place. If that's the case, they may be eligible for a play-in tournament, assuming that they not only keep within striking distance of the Grizzlies, but that they also finish ahead of the other contenders in the West: the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, and Phoenix Suns. If the Kings can accomplish both of those tasks, or take over the eighth seed completely, they'll enter into a two-game series for the final playoff spot. If they're the eighth seed at that point, Sacramento must only win one game to advance, whereas a ninth-place finish would require two consecutive wins over eighth to move into the first round of the postseason.

While that sounds relatively simple in concept, the inherently messy nature of a six-team battle for eighth, with a possible play-in tournament thrown in, grows even more complex when taking into consideration all that has already occurred, such as head-to-head matches earlier in the season, what has yet to occur, such as upcoming games between contenders, and what random, seemingly minor details will have a major impact on who finishes where, such as the number of games played prior to the league's hiatus.

In an attempt to make sense of all of the chaos, and with tables that will hopefully be updated regularly once the season truly restarts, I've broken down each rival that the Kings must best in order to break their playoff drought. Instead of trying to combine every possible scenario into one massive spreadsheet, which would drive even the most excel-obsessed individual insane, the assumption has been made that each team listed will be the only one in play for the eighth or ninth seed at that given time. Every contender is listed by current tie-breakers, how many games are scheduled between the teams, and what win-loss record the Kings must obtain in order to guarantee themselves a shot at the play-in tournament.

Memphis Grizzlies

As the current owners of the final playoff spot in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies are almost certainly going to be in play as either the eighth or ninth seed come the theoretical play-in tournament. If they completely blow it, a single contender may surpass them for eighth, but the likelihood of two teams playing almost impossibly well, coupled with a Memphis collapse, is quite low.

Current tiebreaker: Sacramento owned

Games scheduled: 0

Grizzlies Finish Kings Must Finish
8-0 Out
7-1 Out
6-2 Out
5-3 Out
4-4 8-0
3-5 7-1
2-6 6-2
1-7 5-3
0-8 4-4

As demonstrated by the table above, the Kings, along with the rest of the playoff hopefuls, have very little chance of actually catching the Grizzlies. It would not only take a massive collapse on Memphis’ part, but also a nearly perfect eight-game performance from one of the lower seeds to flip positions. It’s relatively safe to say that the Grizzlies will own the eighth seed come mid-August.

Portland Trail Blazers

With all of the effort put into making the league’s resumption of basketball as balanced as possible over the last few months, it’s clear that the NBA missed on one major point when seeding for the play-in tournament, and that’s the Blazers unearned advantage heading into the resumed regular season. In a normal year and in a normal situation, teams would play the same number of games and any deadlocks would be split by a cascading set of tiebreakers, from win-loss records versus one another, to division winners, to conference records, and so and so forth. However, for reasons that remain unclear, the league decided to ignore the complication of some teams playing more games than others before the hiatus. Instead, the NBA announced that whichever team finishes with a higher winning percentage at the conclusion of the regular season, regardless of actual record in Orlando, will secure the higher seed.

At first glance, that may seem to be the fairest resolution for all involved, but it does negatively impact several of the Western Conference contenders. Prior to the NBA's shutdown, the Blazers had played 66 games, the Suns sat at 65, the Kings and Pelicans were both at 64, and the Spurs had competed in just 63 contests. Because all of these teams hold a record below .500, any team with more games played prior to the break will automatically finish higher than a team with fewer games under their belt, assuming everyone finishes with the same record. For example, if the Kings and Blazers both win five and lose three in Florida, Portland will end up with a final record of 34-40 (.459), while Sacramento will end at 33-39 (.458). Despite entering the tournament the same number of games behind the eighth seed (3.5), and despite finishing with the same record in the resumed season (5-3), the Blazers would finish .001 points ahead in win percentage and would snag the final spot. To put it simply, head-to-head tiebreakers will have no effect on the Kings-Blazers battle, so Sacramento must best Portland's win-loss performance to finish ahead in the standings.

Current tiebreaker: Portland owned, but irrelevant due to the league’s seeding oddity

Games scheduled: 0

Blazers Finish Kings Must Finish
8-0 Out
7-1 8-0
6-2 7-1
5-3 6-2
4-4 5-3
3-5 4-4
2-6 3-5
1-7 2-6
0-8 1-7

New Orleans Pelicans

Although the Memphis Grizzlies hold the most enviable position at the start of the resumed regular season, and the Portland Trail Blazers have been granted a positional advantage if they tie with any of the lower seeds, the New Orleans Pelicans are often assumed to be the team with the greatest chance of stirring things up before the playoffs begin. With the heavily marketable Zion Williamson at their helm, some have even gone so far as to believe that the league’s playoff format was partially driven by a desire to see the Pelicans in the playoffs, and their schedule speaks to such a conspiracy, as New Orleans was given the easiest opponents of any of the 22 teams headed to Florida. Assuming that the Grizzlies hold onto the eighth spot, it’s highly likely that the Kings will find the Pelicans to be their toughest opponent to square off against for that second play-in spot.

Tin foil hats aside, the Pelicans also offer a distinct challenge for the Kings, as the two squads were set to square off in an incredibly important game on the night the league was shut down, just moments before tipoff. As things currently stand, New Orleans holds a 1-0 lead in a tie-breaker situation, but the Kings and Pelicans will face each other twice in Orlando, meaning the Kings can reverse that placement with a pair of wins over their fellow playoff hopeful.

Current tiebreaker: New Orleans owned, but can be reversed with two Sacramento victories

Games scheduled: 2

Pelicans Record Lose to Pelicans Once Beat Pelicans Twice
8-0 Out N/A
7-1 Out 7-1
6-2 7-1 6-2
5-3 6-2 5-3
4-4 5-3 4-4
3-5 4-4 3-5
2-6 3-5 2-6
1-7 2-6 1-7

 

San Antonio Spurs

Of all of the teams that might consider complaining about the league’s decision to weight win percentage over games behind or ahead, the San Antonio Spurs by far possess the biggest gripe with Adam Silver and the NBA’s Board of Governors. Due to playing only 63 games at the conclusion of the regular season, the Spurs must finish with a better record than every other Western Conference contender in order to have a shot at the eighth or ninth seed, meaning any head-to-head tiebreakers will hold no water when determining final positioning.

Current tiebreaker: Tied, but irrelevant due to the league’s seeding oddity

Games scheduled: 1

Spurs Win Versus Kings Kings Must Finish Spurs Lose to Kings Kings Must Finish
8-0 Out 7-1 7-1
7-1 7-1 6-2 6-2
6-2 6-2 5-3 5-3
5-3 5-3 4-4 4-4
4-4 4-4 3-5 3-5
3-5 3-5 2-6 2-6
2-6 2-6 1-7 1-7
1-7 1-7 0-8 0-8
0-8 0-8 0-8 0-8

Phoenix Suns

Including the Phoenix Suns in the Orlando bubble seems almost cruel of the NBA when considering their minuscule chance of actually making any sort of run at the final playoff spot. As the worst team in the Western Conference group, they trail the Spurs by two full games, the Kings, Pelicans, and Blazers by three-and-a-half games, and the Grizzlies by a full six games. In short, Phoenix will not only need to play perfect basketball themselves, but they’ll also need four other, better teams to win almost zero games between them to have a shot at the ninth seed. The Suns were out of this thing the moment in which the format was announced.

Current tiebreaker: Head-to-head tied, division record currently owned by Sacramento

Games scheduled: 0

Suns Record Kings Record
8-0 6-2
7-1 5-3
6-2 4-4
5-3 3-5
4-4 2-6
3-5 1-7
2-6 0-8
1-7 0-8
0-8 0-8

***

Looking through all of these scenarios reveals no easy path to the playoffs for the Sacramento Kings, but the same can be said for every single one of these competitors. There are no valid excuses for poor play or a poor finish. If the Kings wish to break the playoff drought that has hung over this organization for more than a decade, they must start strong, play fast, and maintain focus throughout the entire tournament. If they can do those things, they may just have a shot at the postseason.

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T D
13 days ago

comment image

Rob Hessing
13 days ago
Reply to  1951

Play-ins? Don’t talk about…Play-ins? You kiddin’ me?comment image

Jeff Bayless
13 days ago

This was exactly the article I needed. Thanks Tim and well done.

Rob Hessing
13 days ago

It will be interesting to see if the Kings can stay involved in this chase throughout the eight games. If they fall another game behind Memphis, they’re done. And if any of these other teams come out hot (looking at a healthy Portland squad, for example), they’re done. It is such a narrow window. It will be interesting early. The question is, will it still be interesting late?

Ican Hascheezburger
13 days ago
Reply to  RobHessing

Kings FO after Kings get eliminated:
 
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t overcome the loss of Marvin Bagley to injury.”
 

Kevin Lam
13 days ago
Reply to  Kosta

“But for the first time in franchise history we took the season in to August.”
 

Last edited 13 days ago by Klam
T D
13 days ago
Reply to  Klam

Vivek: Extensions for all my friends!
 comment image

Camera Marty
13 days ago

I love how compact and precise you’ve presented the numbers Tim. Once again, extremely well done.

Rik Smits
13 days ago

OT
 
Another reason for enjoying the jump over to TKH even more:

FYI to everyone, in a few weeks, SB Nation is getting a new commenting platform. From a technology perspective, it’s good, because it allows SB Nation to modernize the code without worrying about breaking everything by just touching one piece of the code. The bad thing is that I know many of us are creatures of habit of how great commenting is, but there are a lot of small nooks and crannies, and visual things, that will go away or be different.

 
No images, no gifs, no Z button etc., apparently.

Akis Yerocostas
Admin
13 days ago
Reply to  RikSmits

It’s amazing that they keep taking away the things that made them unique and special and grew their brand in the first place.

Ican Hascheezburger
13 days ago
Reply to  RikSmits

HAHAHAHA. They’re toast. That will kill any fun they had left.

Kevin Lam
13 days ago
Reply to  Kosta

comment image

Rory Cornell
13 days ago
Reply to  RikSmits

comment image

Kevin Lam
13 days ago
Reply to  RikSmits

comment image?itemid=12688511

Fifth Mookie
13 days ago
Reply to  RikSmits

Literally removing the content and the features that made it a desirable place to visit. Amazing.

Kings Guru21
13 days ago
Reply to  RikSmits

I know a lot of people on AN who will be mighty upset with this…..

Carl Spackler
13 days ago
Reply to  RikSmits

Those four people are going to be really pissed!

A G
12 days ago
Reply to  RikSmits

Who?

David Echard
13 days ago

Simple. The Kings have to win their first 2 games. Spurs and Magic. Lose either one or both and their out. I see Kings either going 5-3 0r 4-4. Pelicans will go 6-2 and take the play in.

Adam Dieter
13 days ago
Reply to  SelecaoKOJ

Yeah, I think we will know if the Kings have a chance after game 2. 0-2 and they are toast. 1-1 and they have the slimmest of slim chances. 2-0 and you got my attention for an additional week.
 
In all honesty, I don’t think they make it. I was inclined to tune in to see how Bagley would do. With that option now done, I’m not sure was we can take away from these 8 games. Jeffries perhaps?

Ican Hascheezburger
13 days ago

Next article:
 
Building A Path To Relevancy For The Sacramento Kings
 
Step 1: Hire a competent GM
 
Step 2: Get out of the way
 

T D
13 days ago
Reply to  Kosta

Probably a simpler path to Sacramento Kings success:
 
Step 1:
 comment imagev
 
Step 2:
 comment image
 

Last edited 13 days ago by 1951
Carl Spackler
13 days ago
Reply to  1951

I though step 2 was Howie Long for a half sec, which is way more a compliment to him than I intended.

Maxwell Huss
13 days ago

Still can’t get over the fact that the Nets (without several key players) and the Magic are almost assured a playoff berth… while only one of the Grizz, Pelicans, Blazers, Kings and Spurs will get in. And why were the Wizards at 24-40 even invited?

So dumb we couldn’t use this bubble opportunity to try out the top 16 teams in the post-season. Would be so much more on the line with these games.

But yeah we have an outside shot so I’ll be into it.

Adam Dieter
13 days ago
Reply to  AirmaxPG

The only reason the Wizards are there is because technically they are not eliminated yet. They need to go 7-1 and either Brooklyn or Orlando need to go 1-7 to even get to a tie breaker. I think they are also there because the league had to provide some kind of drama for the East.

Rob Hessing
13 days ago
Reply to  AirmaxPG

I don’t see a .500 team being left out of the playoffs. If you can’t win half your games you have no complaints about not making the playoffs, in my opinion.

T D
13 days ago
Reply to  RobHessing

 If you can’t win half your games you have no complaints about not making the playoffs, in my opinion.

 
Hmm. Checks notes:
 
Kings current record 28-36 for a .438 winning clip with eight (8) games remaining.

Fifth Mookie
13 days ago
Reply to  1951

hey now, if they win all 8 they’d be at .500!

Maxwell Huss
13 days ago
Reply to  RobHessing

Teams definitely shouldn’t complain about not making it. I was just speaking from the league standpoint of a missed opportunity to try something that makes sense with the added bonus of creating a lot more incentive for people to watch.

We could have 7 teams vying for 3 playoff spots (not counting the Wizards and Suns). But instead we have 5 teams playing for one playoff spot (with the added confusion of a play-in where it is possible the team with the best overall record throughout the season doesn’t even make it).

T D
13 days ago
Reply to  AirmaxPG

Meh. I just don’t see the argument that the Kings earned a chance to get in any more than did the wizards.
 
One team won 24 games, the other 28. Both teams have no shot at even exceeding a .500 record. Color me unimpressed either way.
 

Last edited 13 days ago by 1951
Maxwell Huss
13 days ago
Reply to  1951

It wasn’t really my point to single out the Wizards. They are still not mathematically eliminated with 8 games left so they get their shot. Just pointing out we could have a lot more fun end to the season with a minor tweak of inviting the top 16.

T D
13 days ago
Reply to  AirmaxPG

No, I get that. My point is kinda: What’s the point? Is it really more fun when we are just reshuffling the deck of a bunch of bad teams that are hanging out somewhere near the bottom of the playoff barrel?
 
They are bad teams in either format, and just I don’t see a strong argument that the bad Western Conference teams did much more to deserve anything than did the bad Eastern Conference teams.

Maxwell Huss
13 days ago
Reply to  1951

It’s definitely more fun if you are a fan of one of those bad teams, in my opinion.

And yes there will be bad teams in either format, but I’m simply stating that *less bad* teams should be in.

Eric W
13 days ago
Reply to  1951

In general, I’m all for it. But I think you have to do it from the beginning of the season so you can balance the schedule better. The Division winners get in. Then the next 10 best teams. Do away with the idea of conferences all together.

Maxwell Huss
12 days ago

Yeah it wouldn’t be a completely fair system, but the Eastern teams are the ones benefitting from an easier schedule thus far, so they can’t really complain if they get passed by a team in the West with a better record. They definitely should do this from the beginning of the year, but this would have been an excellent test run, in my opinion.

Adam Granger
13 days ago
Reply to  1951

Maybe the NBA just needed enough games to get their TV deal money. 22 teams x 8 games was the math that worked.

Adam Dieter
13 days ago
Reply to  RobHessing

Ironically, the Kings are the only team that could possibly finish 8-0 , reach .500 an not make the playoffs. If the Blazers beat the Grizz on Friday and also go 8-0 they make the play-in tourny. If the Grizz only loose to the Blazers and go 7-1 they too make the play-in tourny. The Kings would be at 36-36 and left out. That is…if the league only allows 2 teams in the play-in tournament. I’m still not certain how big the play-in tournament can get.

Richie J
13 days ago

Um, if NO loses twice to the Kings, they can’t go 7-1.

Rob Hessing
13 days ago
Reply to  BabyGiraffe

“Good Catch!”
What is something that was never uttered to Mikki Moore or Joe Kleine?comment image

Kings Guru21
13 days ago
Reply to  RobHessing

Trebek GIFs should be auto rec’s….

T D
13 days ago
Reply to  BabyGiraffe

Fine, if we are doing this then how can the Pels go 8-0 if we lose to them only once!
 
😉

Kevin Lam
13 days ago

OT: It appears The Kings Herald Store has launched!
 

The Kings Herald Store

Rob Hessing
13 days ago
Reply to  Klam

Welcome to shopping hell!

Adam Dieter
13 days ago
Reply to  RobHessing

Try our thick and creamy Gregs.

T D
13 days ago
Reply to  Adamsite

“Do they come with raisins?”
 
-You know who

Kings Guru21
13 days ago
Reply to  Adamsite

Eww. That’s gross.

Fifth Mookie
13 days ago
Reply to  Klam

do you have any peach themed items?
 
or do I need to look for those in another media market?

Walle Robot
13 days ago

Let’s just beat the Spurs.

Michael Wolfe
13 days ago

So what you’re saying is that there’s a chance … Great article Tim. While extremely unlikely, I thought if the Kings and Blazers both went 8-0, the Kings would advance. That would put them both at exactly 0.500. The head-to-head is 2-2, and the Kings would have a better conference record (currently 20-20 versus 16-26 for the Blazers), so they would actually win the tie-break in that situation. I realize that I’m more likely to win the lottery than both the Kings and Blazers going 8-0, but I’ve held out to this hope because it technically means that as of right now, the Kings still control their own destiny.

Richie J
13 days ago

Nope. Tim’s right WRT Portland.

Kings Guru21
13 days ago

No, what Tim said in the article is correct. It’s going to be based on win percentage, not normal tie breakers like we would see after 82 games. The Blazers would have a higher win percentage than the Kings. Therefore they advance.

Eric W
13 days ago
Reply to  Kingsguru21

But if they both go 8-0, the Blazers would be 37-37 and the Kings would be 36-36. Meaning their winning percentage would be the same (.500). Any other matching records (ie. 7-1/7-1, 6-2/6-2) the Blazers would have a winning percentage advantage. It’s a funny like fluke of the set up. Though I can’t say I remember what the second tie breaker is. I’ll have to go look.
 
 
Edit: After winning percentage it goes to the traditional tiebreakers, so MR3 is correct, I believe.
 

Last edited 13 days ago by BestHyperboleEver
Mike McCallum
13 days ago

comment image I was told there would be no math.

Kings Guru21
13 days ago
Reply to  bjax1

I love this one personally.
 comment image
 
 
 

Last edited 13 days ago by Kingsguru21
Kings Guru21
13 days ago

Happy to be wrong, if that’s the case, sorry MR3!

Kings Guru21
13 days ago

If I were picking teams to get the 8th seed, I’d pick New Orleans. They have the easiest schedule, and have a monster collection of talent at the top of their rotation the Kings don’t have. But whether or not it comes together, it shall remain to be seen. I’m not betting against them, though.
 
I’d be very surprised if the Pelicans don’t finish at least 5-3, and I think the Kings have to finish at least 6-2. Based on the Spurs and in particular the Blazers schedule, I think the Kings have to finish a minimum of 6-2. And the Pels can’t have more than 5 wins. Who knows how the Grizzlies finish, they have a tough schedule as well.
 
I think the Kings COULD do it, but nobody in their right mind would bet against the Pelicans due to their talent and schedule ahead of them. The toughest games they are playing are right now against Utah, and Saturday against the Clippers. But they also play the Kings twice, and both teams really hold their own destiny IMO. The Kings toughest two games are Houston (6th game on the schedule) and the Lakers (8th game). If the Kings start 2-0 and the Pelicans start 0-2 or even just 1-1, the Kings will have their chances.
 
It comes down to whether or not this group can get their act together and beat the team in front of them like San Antonio and Orlando to start. Beating New Orleans both times is a must. But I think the Kings have a good opportunity to make this play-in game if they continue playing well as they were before the season is put on pause.
 
The only thing that I think keeps the Kings from making it if the Blazers or Pelicans just go nuts and run the table. But I don’t see anybody running the table, that’s alot easier said than done.
 
To say the Kings don’t have chances would simply be apologist talk. The Kings have their chances. But they are going to have show everyone that they can take advantage of these opportunities. Also, it would be fun if the bubble became Swipa’s coming out party. Jes’ sayin’….
 

Last edited 13 days ago by Kingsguru21
Eric W
13 days ago
Reply to  Kingsguru21

Agreed. I’d say the chances of a MEM/NOP play-in are pretty high. And beating any team twice in a row is tough, so MEM probably has a slight edge to actually make the play-offs. That said, the Kings certainly have a chance. I’d probably put them about even with the Blazers (Blazers may be a bit better depending on how rusty Nurkic and Collins are, and they have the winning pct advantage, but the Kings have a much easier schedule). But the Kings certainly have their chances. I think they couldn’t have really asked for a friendlier set up. They and the Blazers had roughly the SoS remained when play stopped. Now, the Kings have the 3rd easiest schedule and the Blazers have the 5th most difficult. The Pelicans had the easiest remained schedule both before and after.
 
In short, the Kigns have nothing to complain about. The pause and format change has done nothing but improve their chances of making the playoffs.

Kings Guru21
13 days ago

Couldn’t agree more. I’m very interested to see how tomorrow goes.

Jeff Werolin
12 days ago
Reply to  Kingsguru21

Maybe?

chance2.gif
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[…] It's been so long since the Kings have played meaningful basketball that an entire generation has been born and grown into adulthood with no memory of the Kings ever actually being good.  These upcoming eight games aren't playoff basketball, but they might as well be.  Every single game is a must win.  The margins are tight, as Tim showcased thoroughly. […]

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[…] be explaining pretty much any of that, but I recommend you go stare at all the pretty tables that Tim Maxwell put together in his article on Thursday and see how easily he makes a very complicated subject sound easy. The main premise I took away […]

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[…] Building a path to the playoffs for the Sacramento Kings […]

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