SACRAMENTO -- There wasn't a celebration in the Kings locker room. It didn't feel like a funeral either. For the third straight time, the Kings gave the Golden State Warriors all they could handle, only to come up short in the final seconds.
The loss to the champs was the fourth straight for the Kings, but the team is competing closely with some of the best teams in the Western Conference.
"That's a heck of a basketball game – I hope it was fun to watch; it was fun to play," coach Dave Joerger opened his post game press conference with. "I'm very proud of our team – we compete, we're playing hard."
The Kings have held the lead in the fourth quarter of all four losses. They're still searching how to close out the better clubs in the league, although there are definite signs of improvement.
"We'll keep learning," Joerger added. "We forced them into some tough shots. When you play such a high level team, you're going to go home and you're going to think of the two times that you didn't get that loose ball, that one time that you went under on a screen. It just forces you to focus and raise your level to a higher level individually, and as a team we're continuing to learn."
In a 48-minute game, it's surprising how often it comes down to a single stop or a late mistake on the offensive end.
All four games the Kings dropped this week came to teams currently in the playoff chase. Denver sits atop the Western Conference standings. The Warriors are the two-time reigning champs and both the Lakers and Trail Blazers are currently in the top eight.
"We're a couple possessions away from being elite," Buddy Hield said. "We're a good team now, but to be elite, say we win three of those four games, we'd probably be in the fifth or sixth spot in the West. That's the elite and if we want to be elite, we have to lock in and finish those possessions and get stops on defense when we're supposed to get stops and grind it out."
It's a tough blow to lose all four, but the schedule lightens up considerably starting Monday with the Magic. Orlando comes into Sunday with a record of 17-21, but they'll face the Los Angeles Clippers before flying to Sacramento to play the Kings on the second night of a back-to-back.
Following the game against the Magic, the Kings fly to Phoenix where they'll play the Suns on Tuesday. Phoenix has lost five straight coming into Sunday's matchup with the Charlotte Hornets. At 9-31, they have the worst record in the Western Conference.
If the Kings can sweep the two games, they move back over the .500 mark at the midway point of the season. A record anywhere near even would be shocking for a team that experts had winning 25-26 games total on the season.
Coaches and players aren't satisfied with their current position in the standings. But they also aren't down on themselves. They like the identity that they've developed and the vibe in the locker room is still extremely positive.
They also know that rookie Marvin Bagley III is on the mend and that the team has the assets to acquire help as the trade deadline approaches.
The NBA schedule is a marathon and not a sprint. As the Kings reach the midway point, they've hit a small snag, but there is a resiliency to this group that was lacking in past years.