Most teams would be reeling after losing four games in a row to fall below .500 for the first time in five weeks, but somehow it still feels like the Kings are on the rise as they enter another pivotal portion of their schedule.
The Kings fought the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors to the end for the third time this season before falling 127-123 in a wildly entertaining game Saturday night at Golden 1 Center. The teams combined for 11 ties, 18 lead changes and an NBA-record 41 3-pointers before two-time MVP Stephen Curry sank two free throws with 9.3 seconds remaining to secure the victory for the Warriors.
Curry poured in 42 points and Kevin Durant had 29 for Golden State (26-14). Buddy Hield scored 32 points and Justin Jackson had a career-high 28 for the Kings (19-20), who have lost three games to the Warriors by a total of 10 points.
“We just couldn’t find a way to beat those boys,” Hield said. “They’re tough and that’s why they’re the champs. We’re not too far, just a couple possessions off. They sense it. We’re not too far from them. It’s going to come. Might not be this year — maybe next year — (but) it’s going to come.”
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Sacramento’s last three losses came against three of the top seven teams in the Western Conference. All three were decided in the final minute. There was a five-point overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, a four-point loss to the Denver Nuggets and another four-point loss to Golden State.
“I’m very proud of our team,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “We compete. We’re playing hard. We’ve taken some losses … (but) we’re playing very hard (and) we’re playing very good teams.”
The Kings just concluded a stretch of 13 consecutive games against 10 Western Conference playoff contenders who had a combined record of 276-225 going into Saturday’s games. That stretch included eight games against the top eight teams in the conference, including two against the Warriors, two against the Los Angeles Lakers and one against the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers.
The Kings won four of the first seven games during that stretch but finished 5-8. They can’t help feeling like they let a few games slip away after suffering four close losses to the Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Warriors, but they don’t seem concerned.
“No concern,” said Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein, who had 14 points, 13 rebounds and six assists against the Warriors. “I mean, I think we’ve just got to keep on doing what we’re doing, play like we have been, and the chips will fall where they fall. We’ve just got to not change what we do and play how we play.”
The Kings will conclude a four-game home stand and enter a much more favorable portion of their schedule when they play host to the Orlando Magic on Monday night. Orlando has lost six of its last nine.
The Kings will play their next eight games against six teams with a combined record of 137-168, five of them against an opponent on the second night of a back-to-back. Only one of those teams, the Trail Blazers, has a .500 record.
With the exception of the Brooklyn Nets, who have won 11 of 14, the other teams on Sacramento’s upcoming schedule are all struggling. The Phoenix Suns have lost five in a row and seven of eight. The Detroit Pistons have lost four of their last five. The Charlotte Hornets have lost five of seven.
The Kings just ran the gauntlet against several of the toughest teams in the Western Conference and came out with a chance to jump right back into the playoff picture with a few wins.
On paper it looks like they’re reeling after four consecutive losses, but they still feel like a team on the rise.
“I think we held up fine,” Kings guard Yogi Ferrell said. “Our spirits aren’t down. That’s the biggest thing. … We want to grow and get better, and we’re looking forward to our next matchups.”
Jason Anderson: 916-321-1363, @JandersonSacBee