NEW ORLEANS -- The Sacramento Kings would love to finish the season strong, but they've run into a few issues. They're struggling to close out games and against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Kings were completely pushed around in the paint.
Despite playing without Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore, the Pelicans led for much of the night. When the game was on the line, it was a ragtag group of fill-ins that made the difference for New Orleans.
The 121-118 loss dropped the Kings back below the .500 mark at 37-38. While it could have been a cleaner performance, there are some positives from the defeat.
Dominated Down Low
Julius Randle, Jahlil Okafor and Christian Wood attacked the Kings on the low block and the Kings struggled to make an adjustment.
Randle crushed the Kings for a game-high 34 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Okafor bullied his way to 12 points and nine rebounds in just 25 minutes and Wood, who was claimed off waivers March 20, dropped in 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting to go with nine rebounds.
The Kings were outscored 74-64 in the paint. They knew what was coming on almost every possession and they still couldn't stop it from happening.
The focus of the offseason has to be shoring up the interior defense. Either through scheme or a swap in personnel, the Kings have to get better inside.
At one point this season, the Kings were known for their late-game heroics and the ability to hit the big shot. That no is longer the case.
Since the All-Star break, the Kings have lost eight games by six points or less and four by three or less. That is the difference between being in the postseason hunt and standing on the outside looking in.
"We've got to finish, man, we've got to finish games," Buddy Hield said following the game. "That's our biggest downfall right now, not finishing games. It sucks, but that's what's killing us."
This is a young team and that is showing down the stretch. Winning at the NBA level usually comes in stages. The Kings skipped a few of those stages this season, but that might be catching up to them now.
Make no mistake, this team is built around De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic. The trio were very good against New Orleans.
Fox was dynamic and is finishing the season strong. He dropped in 25 points on 11-for-22 shooting, but that was only the beginning. He posted a 12-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, grabbed five rebounds, picked up two steals and blocked a shot.
Hield struggled with his 3-point shot, knocking down 1-of-8 from long range. But he still managed to score 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting.
Bogdanovic didn't get the same run as the starters, but he still managed to finish the evening with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting in just 18 minutes. He's quietly strung three very nice games together off the bench for the Kings.
Not so Magic
The playoff talk died down a little over a week ago, but the Kings have yet to face the reality of their official elimination.
Sacramento's magic number to be eliminated from the playoffs is now one.
A win over the Nuggets on Friday evening for the Thunder would end the Kings' chance of catching OKC. A loss to Rockets on Saturday evening seals Sacramento's fate completely.
If somehow neither of these events happen, the Kings face the Spurs on Sunday evening. If Sacramento loses, they are officially eliminated. If they somehow sweep the Rockets/Spurs back-to-back, they would still have to win the final five games and have either San Antonio or OKC lose out.