The Kings Are Not NBA Title Contenders. Here’s Why You Need to Bet Them Anyway.
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images. Pictured: Domantas Sabonis (right) and Kevin Huerter of the Sacramento Kings.
Light. The. Beam.
The Sacramento Kings and their fans have waited 17 years for this moment. Finally, FINALLY, after all this time, the Kings will return to the playoffs.
Sacramento’s magic number is seven with 14 to play. If the teams in seventh and eighth in the West finished 10-3, the Kings would only have to go 6-9 to clinch. They are in. It’s done.
The Kings enter the last month of the regular season as the No. 1 offense. They are the only team in the West with a road record above .500. They will likely finish with a top-three seed and home-court advantage in the first round.
At the time of this writing, they are +2500 at BetMGM and FanDuel to win the Western Conference. Those are longer odds than the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks, who sit beneath Sacramento in the standings.
Additionally, at least one (potentially two) of those teams is headed for the NBA Play-In Tournament. The Kings also have longer odds than the Los Angeles Lakers, who would be the last team in at the moment.
The market has spoken. The Kings are frauds and their cute regular season success will come to a close in a month when the playoffs begin.
The market is right. The Kings are not a true contender in the Western Conference. They have almost no shot at winning the West.
And they are still worth betting anyway. Here’s why.
It’s All About the Bracket
The Kings are going to be in the 2-3 side of the bracket and the NBA playoffs don’t re-seed after every round. Instead, the bracket stands as is. This is incredibly relevant as we look at the teams that will have to go against one another.
There’s a big gap between the Denver Nuggets at No. 1 (even with their losing streak) and the Kings at No. 2. There is an even bigger delta between the Kings and the Suns in fourth place.
The most likely scenario is the Nuggets finish with the top seed and the Kings finish either second or third.
It’s also very likely the Suns finish either fourth or fifth.
So right off the top we know the Kings likely won’t have to face the Nuggets or Suns unless they reach the Western Conference Finals.
The Kings and Grizzlies are tied in the loss column. Memphis is still without Ja Morant and has been on a downward slide.
My projections have the Kings slated to finish a half-game ahead of the Grizzlies. The two teams split their season series, and both would be division winners. So, we would go to the third tiebreaker, conference record, where the Kings are up by five in the loss column.
Any combination of seven Kings conference wins and Grizzlies conference losses would clinch the Kings tiebreaker.
As of right now, the Kings are favored to finish second and claim home court through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Their first and second-round opponents will be either the sixth or seventh seeds.
That will be one of Clippers, Warriors, Mavericks, Lakers, Timberwolves, Utah Jazz or Oklahoma City Thunder.
It’s true, the Kings could land the No. 2 seed and face the L.A. Lakers with a returning LeBron James and Anthony Davis, bringing up nightmares of the 2002 officiating debacle.
Sacramento might have to face the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
The Kings might have to face Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with a playoff-tested Clippers team.
But they also might get a Timberwolves team that might have a version of Karl-Anthony Towns, who is “expected to return in the coming weeks,” according to a press release from the team, well past his original expected return date.
They might get an OKC team that has put Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on game restrictions for the rest of the season.
They might get a Utah team that traded four rotation pieces at the deadline and is led by young, inexperienced players with a young, inexperienced coach.
And even with those tough teams, there are questions.
The Lakers’ trades have only moved them up slightly in the standings, and health is always a question.
The Warriors would be one of the worst road teams we’ve ever seen make the playoffs.
The Clippers’ inconsistency is maddening.
I’m not saying those teams wouldn’t be favored vs. the Kings. They would be. I’m also not saying the Kings wouldn’t win those matchups, they likely would.
However, they would undoubtedly be closer matchups than the market is suggesting.
If the bracket winds up with the Kings vs. Wolves in Round 1 and then the winner of Grizzlies-Clippers in Round 2, the Kings are live.
Golden 1 Center will be an absolute madhouse for this run, and the Kings have both the top-end players (De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis) and the depth to find counters.
The Kings are 7-6 against the Mavericks, Grizzlies, Warriors and Clippers. They are 3-2 vs. the Wolves and Jazz, and 3-0 vs. the Thunder.
Regular season records matter less than the matchup itself, but the matchups are at least interesting with these teams.
The Grizzlies’ main problem is half-court offense. The Kings’ No. 1-rated offense ranks eighth vs. top-10 defenses this season (per Cleaning The Glass). So the question is whether Memphis’ 26th-ranked half-court offense can create against the Kings’ porous defense.
Memphis ranks 22nd in offense vs. bottom-10 defensive teams like the Kings. There’s just not many indications the Grizzlies can keep up — with or without Morant. If they can’t, we’ll likely see a lot of half-court sets like this without Morant on the floor:
The Clippers and Warriors like to go with small-ball units. Compared to previous seasons, both teams will employ this less with the Clippers adding Mason Plumlee as a backup center and the Warriors being better with Kevon Looney on the floor.
The Clippers are 19th in transition defense. That’s bad news against a Kings team that ranks 10th in points off turnovers per game. Sacramento gets out and runs well. The Clippers have not been disciplined or consistent enough to handle waves of the Kings’ best basketball.
Just watch Malik Monk beat the entire Clippers team down the floor here off a miss:
The Warriors, meanwhile, are one of the worst road teams we’ve ever seen in the postseason. If that continues into the playoffs, they’re not ducking the beam enough.
The Warriors are also turnover prone, which again leads to more Kings offense. The Warriors’ defense is better, but maybe not so much better.
The Kings Are Just … Really Good
We can talk about the Kings being frauds because they’re the Kings (and the defense), but bear in mind this team does look good. They have star power at the top with Sabonis and Fox, who is having a breakout season. They have wing depth with veterans like Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes. They have young x-factors like Davion Mitchell and Keegan Murray.
They can win on the road. Their bench is eighth-best in the NBA in net rating. And their offense is elite.
It’s fine to think the Kings aren’t real. This isn’t a championship roster. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bet them at such a long number and then hedge in the conference finals if you think the beam will finally fade.
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