How Kings Still Can Make NBA Playoffs With 20 Games Left in Season

SACRAMENTO -- Nobody said it was going to be easy.

After 12 years of watching other teams make the NBA playoffs, the Kings and their loyal fan base are ready for their turn.

Friday night's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers was a blow to Sacramento's postseason chances, but there still is plenty of time to make up ground with 20 games remaining.

Catching the Clippers will be difficult. The win gave Los Angeles a sweep in the season series, and pushed the Clippers three games ahead of the Kings in the standings.

Not only would the Kings have to make up the three games, they also would have to finish with a better record than the Clippers due to the tiebreaker.

After shaking up their roster at the deadline, it appeared the Clippers were waving the white flag on the season. But clearly that is not the case any longer.

L.A. has one of the easiest schedules to finish out the season. The Clippers' opponents in the final 18 games have a winning percentage of just .479, the seventh-easiest remaining schedule in the league.

There still is time to catch the Clippers, but the Kings can't afford many more slip-ups. L.A. has eight difficult games remaining on its schedule, six very winnable games and four games that are toss-ups.

With a record of 35-29, the Clippers should win 43 to 45 games if they continue to play at their current level.

The easier path to the playoffs for the Kings might be through the San Antonio Spurs. They trail the Spurs by 2.5 games for the eighth seed, and own a 2-0 advantage over San Antonio in the season series with only one game remaining.

If the two teams finish the year with identical records, the Kings would advance due to the tiebreaker rules, unless there is a three-way tie for the spot, and then it gets complicated.

San Antonio has the 12th-easiest remaining schedule, and will play 19 games against opponents with a winning percentage against of .491.

A quick glance at their schedule shows the Spurs have eight very difficult games, eight winnable games and three toss-ups.

With a current record of 34-29, the Spurs have a good opportunity to win 9 to 11 games down the stretch, which would give them 43 to 45 wins.

Yet, it's not just a three-team race down the stretch. The Los Angeles Lakers sit only one game behind the Kings in the standings, but their path to the playoffs is extremely tough.

They have the 10th-hardest schedule remaining, and will play opponents with a winning percentage of .522. L.A. has nine difficult games, five clearly winnable ones and six toss-ups in the final 20 contests.

At 30-32, the Lakers might not reach the 40-win plateau this season, even with LeBron James leading the charge. They are in the conversation, but if the win total to get in is 43 to 45 games, the Lakers would have to be flawless in toss-up games and still need to pick up a few huge victories over strong playoff teams.

[RELATED: Playoff-hungry Kings still trying to 'prove ourselves']

None of this matters if the Kings can't take care of their own business. They have the softest schedule of the lot, with an opponent win percentage of just .453. That's the third-easiest remaining schedule. 

Sacramento has 10 very winnable games remaining on its schedule, seven difficult match-ups and three toss-ups. If they can win all the games they should and pick up the three toss-ups, they would finish the season with 44 wins. That might be enough to get into the playoffs.

The Kings and Spurs square off March 31 in San Antonio for the final time this season, which could determine the fate of the Kings' season.

A win Friday over the Clippers would have tightened the race, and given the Kings a huge boost. A loss was not the end of the season, though.

After 12 years of futility, Sacramento still has a fighting chance to shock the NBA and earn a trip to the postseason.

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