Coming into the season, the discussion surrounding the Sacramento Kings was different than usual. It was positive. But for all the belief that they would be improved, the general expectation was still only that they could challenge for a spot in the play-in tournament, and perhaps sneak into the playoffs.
No one, as it turned out was bullish enough on the Kings. As the final month of the regular season begins, they're no longer sneaking up on anyone. After a 128-119 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, the Kings are 40-26, which is good for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and the sixth-best record in the league.
This is the first time they've won 40 games in a season since 2006, and Mike Brown joined Rick Adelman as only the second coach to achieve that feat since the team moved to Sacramento in 1985. Soon, they'll clinch their first playoff appearance since '06, and end the longest active postseason drought of any team in the four major North American sports leagues.
"I hope I don't offend anybody, but we don't just want to win 40," Brown said following the win over the Suns. "Forty doesn't ... I don't know - I don't feel anything. I just want to win the next game."
That mindset has been key in keeping the Kings on track in recent months. They haven't lost consecutive games in over a month, and you have to go all the way back to November to find the last time they lost more than two games in a row. They keep their head down and just keep marching along, never straying far off track.
As De'Aaron Fox put it following the team's stunning double-overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 24:
"I don't give a f--- who's over there. It doesn't matter. You see the league, the talent in this league. There are a lot of talented teams. Obviously, he added talent to this team, but we come in, we worry about us."
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Opponents are starting to worry about the Kings, though. Since the All-Star break, Fox and Co. have the best record in the league at 8-1 and boast a plus-7.4 net rating. At this point, it's almost certain that they'll finish with at least a top-three seed in the West.
That's thanks almost entirely to their electric offense, which has been completely unstoppable once play resumed after All-Star. In those nine games, they boast a 126.8 offensive rating; to put that in perspective, their 118.7 offensive rating for the entire season is on pace to be the most efficient offense in league history. They've scored at least 122 points in every single game, are shooting 54 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point land and are assisting on 61.6 percent of their baskets.
There are certainly some concerns about the Kings' total inability to stop anyone at the other end (25th in defensive rating for the season), especially come playoff time. But whatever happens from here, this has been a season to remember in Sacramento.