De'Aaron Fox

The Sacramento Kings are on the borderline. They're 3 1/2 games out of the playoffs, firmly ahead of the why-are-they-going-to-Disney-World teams (Phoenix, Washington) but without the buzz of the watch-out-for-these-guys! teams (Portland, New Orleans). The Kings can't point to an easy schedule or a potentially transformed roster in Orlando; they just have to try to be their best selves and hope they get a little lucky. 

Some context: The 29-37 Blazers are also 3 1/2 back of the eighth-place Grizzlies, but since they'd played two more games when the season shut down, they functionally own a tiebreaker over both the Kings and the Pelicans, who have identical 28-36 records. To trigger a play-in scenario, the ninth-place team needs to be within four games of the eighth-place team after everybody in Orlando plays eight "seeding games." For Sacramento this means every game matters, and the two against New Orleans will be intense. 

Kings roster

Players sitting out: N/A 

Kings schedule

All times Eastern

Key storylines

Bagley is back: Let's forget about the 13 games Bagley played this season before the hiatus and how terrible the Kings were with him on the court. He is supposed to be one of the team's centerpieces, and this would be a good time for him to remind everybody why. I suspect he'll come off the bench, though, and coach Luke Walton will have some lineup-juggling to do. The last time Sacramento took the court, Walton was trying to find frontcourt minutes for Holmes, Bjelica, Giles and Len. Something will have to give now, and there could be tension between what's best for the team's playoff chances and what's best for Bagley's development. 

Foxing: Save for Fox's lower 3-point percentage, higher free throw rate and higher usage rate, his per-minute, pre-pandemic stats were virtually identical to Ja Morant's. Fox hasn't been much of a story, though, because the Kings had an awful start and he missed 17 games. This could change if the Kings overachieve, and it should change because, I mean, look at this absolute maniac:

Fox is one of the most dynamic players on the planet, especially in the open court ... which brings us to our next storyline.

Pace: The 2018-19 Kings were a blur. No team spent more time in transition, per Cleaning The Glass, a style of play that suited Fox for obvious reasons. This changed drastically under coach Luke Walton, and Fox's month-long absence doesn't come close to accounting for the slowdown. Pace has been a topic of conversation around the team all season, even though Sacramento's halfcourt defense is the area most responsible for its slippage. This is a question of identity: If you are not building a blazing-fast team around Fox, then how can you say you're building around him at all?