SACRAMENTO -- No one said it was going to be easy. After 12 years of watching other teams make the playoffs, the Sacramento Kings and their loyal fanbase are ready for their turn.
Friday night's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers was a blow to the Kings' chances, but with 20 games remaining, there is still plenty of time to make up ground.
Catching the Clippers will be difficult. The win for LA gave them a 4-0 advantage in the season series and pushed them three games ahead of the Kings in the standings.
Not only would the Kings have to make up the three games, they would have to finish with a better record than the Clippers due to the tie breaker.
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.
Los Angeles has one of the easiest schedules to finish out the season. Their opponent win percentage of their 18 remaining games is just .479, which is the 23rd easiest remaining schedule in the league.
There is still time to catch the Clippers, but Sacramento can't afford many more slip-ups. Los Angeles has eight difficult games remaining on their schedule, six very winnable games and four games that are toss ups.
With a record of 35-29, the Clippers should win 43-45 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. Sacramento trails the Spurs by 2.5 games for the eighth seed and they 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 tie breaker rules, unless there is a three way tie for the spot, and then it gets complicated.
San Antonio has the 18th most difficult remaining schedule with a win percentage against of .491.
A quick glance at their schedule has the Spurs with eight very difficult games, eight winnable games and three toss up games.
With a current record of 34-29, the Spurs have a good opportunity to win 9-11 games down the stretch, which would give them 43-45 wins.
It's not just a three team race down the stretch. The Lakers sit just a game behind the Kings in the standings, but their path to the playoffs is extremely tough.
They have the 10th most difficult schedule remaining with an opponent win percentage of .522. LA has nine difficult games, five clearly winnable and six toss ups in their final 20 contests.
At 30-32, they 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 hits 43-45 games, the Lakers would have to be flawless in toss up games and would still need to pick up a few huge victories against strong playoff teams.
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, which is the third easiest in the NBA.
Sacramento has 10 very winnable games remaining on their schedule, seven difficult games 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 faceoff on March 31 in San Antonio for the final time this season, which could help decide the fate of the Kings' season.
A win over the Clippers would have tightened the race and given the Kings a huge boost. A loss was not the end of the season. After 12 years of futility, Sacramento still has a fighting chance to shock the NBA and earn a trip to the postseason.