SACRAMENTO -- The Kings were never going to go 20-0. Every team loses games down the stretch. It's the way the schedule works. It's the way the NBA works.
Sacramento wasn't expected to beat the Celtics, even with Kyrie Irving sitting out. Just like they weren't expected to beat the Nuggets, Warriors, Bucks and Clippers.
If they are going to make up ground on the San Antonio Spurs, they need to steal a game or two from the tough-game category. But with 18 games remaining on the schedule, there is still a path to the postseason for Sacramento.
The Next Four Games
The Kings hit the road for a four-game trip beginning Saturday in New York. While they beat the Knicks on Monday, this game has a scheduling challenge the Kings will need to overcome. The game is slated for a 9 a.m. PT start. Regardless of time, it's a must-win for Sacramento.
Following the battle at Madison Square Garden, the Kings hop on a short flight to Washington where they'll face a struggling Wizards team. Like New York, this is a must-win game against a team that currently sits 10 games under .500.
After two days off, the Kings play a difficult back-to-back against the Celtics and 76ers on the road. They've shown the ability to bring the Celtics to the brink. With time to prepare, they need to find a way to get over the hump.
In their only other matchup with the Sixers this season, the Kings came away with a 115-108 victory at Golden 1 Center. This is the second night of a back-to-back and Philly looks like a team ready to make a run in the postseason.
For a successful trip, the Kings need to win three out of four and at worst split the trip.
Potential Record: 35-33
The Magnificent 7
Following the four-game road trip, the Kings enter a lull in the schedule. While plenty of these teams are playing better than their record, we are about to hit the chase for lottery balls. Beginning with a four-game homestand, Sacramento faces the Bulls, Nets, Mavericks and Suns. Only the Nets have a winning record and they are just a game over .500.
Chicago is 6-4 over their previous 10 games and the addition of Otto Porter is a good fit, but this is a stretch where the Kings need to ride the home crowd and come away with four victories.
Following the game against the Suns, the Kings play the next night in Los Angeles against the Lakers. Two weeks ago, this game would have had major implications for both teams. Now the Lakers have fallen in the pit of despair.
Sacramento travels to Dallas and then New Orleans. Both of these are winnable games against sub-.500 teams.
If ever there was a chance for a late season, seven-game win streak, this is it. If the Kings falter in even one of these games, the road to the playoffs becomes treacherous at best.
Potential Record: 42-33/41-34
Following the seven crucial winnable games, coach Dave Joerger and his staff will face an impossible decision. They'll hit Houston, followed by a back-to-back in San Antonio. Sacramento's lost both matchups this season to the Rockets by a combined 46 points. It's a tough matchup to say the least.
Joerger could see how his team comes out early and if it goes south in the first 24 minutes, pull the plug. He could also rest his starters for the next night in what could prove to be the biggest game of the season. With the Kings chasing the Spurs in the standings, a win in San Antonio is the only option for Sacramento.
The Kings return from their five game trip to face the Rockets again, followed by the Cavaliers. If they want to lay it all on the line against Houston, the second matchup is a better option. Cleveland is 16-49 on the season and staring dreamily at the Duke Blue Devils roster for salvation.
Sacramento finishes out the final three games of the season in Utah, at home against the Pelicans and on the road in Portland. The Kings are 1-2 against the Jazz and 1-1 versus the Blazers this season. With playoff positioning coming to a conclusion, they may catch one or both of these teams resting players.
The Kings need to beat the Spurs, Cavs and Pelicans and sneak out at least one win from the Rockets, Jazz and Trail Blazers.
Potential Record: 46-36/45-37
The Kings have been living by the "one game at a time" mentality for most of the season. With their margin of error almost completely gone, that theme must carry through the final 18 games.
Sacramento has one of the easiest remaining schedules with a win percentage of .460. They currently trail the Spurs by four games, but San Antonio has played two more games than Sacramento. The Kings trail by just three games in the loss column with the tie breaker already clinched.
It won't be easy, but if the Kings take care of the games they should win, beat the Spurs in San Antonio and steal a game or two from other playoff bound teams, they still have a shot to make the postseason.
They could use a little help from the Spurs, who have rattled off four straight wins. The Clippers could fall on hard times as well, but they hold a tiebreaker over the Kings, so Sacramento would need to finish with a better record.