By Anne M. Peterson | The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — While a throng of purple-clad visiting fans were already celebrating, De’Aaron Fox was watching from the bench as the moments ticked down in Sacramento’s 120-80 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
For Fox, drafted by the Kings in 2017, the wait was finally over. Sacramento clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“We want to do bigger things, but 16 years — that’s a long time,” Fox said.
Fox finished with 18 points in the victory, which also gave the Kings home-court advantage. The team’s 16-year playoff drought was the longest in NBA history and the longest active postseason dry spell among teams in the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball.
“Definitely with this team, I think you’re just playing for a higher purpose,” Fox said. “And I think we have a team that’s capable and we know that we can continue to get better.”
The last time the Kings made the playoffs, Fox was 8 years old.
Kings rookie Keegan Murray made his 188th 3-pointer of the season with 6:44 to go in the third quarter to set the NBA record, passing Donovan Mitchell’s mark of 187 set in 2017-18. Murray, who flashed an understated grin after the shot fell, finished with 13 points.
Malik Monk finished with 19 points off the bench and Kevin Huerter added 17. The Kings fans at Portland’s Moda Center celebrated with the team’s rallying cry, “Light the Beam!”
“For all the support they’ve given us over the years, continuing to come to the arena, heartbreak, frustration and disappointment season after season,” forward Harrison Barnes said. “To finally get this moment for them, it’s everything.”
The Kings (46-30) sit in third in the Western Conference. The first-place Denver Nuggets and the Memphis Grizzlies, who sit three games back, had already clinched.
Rookie Shaedon Sharpe had 30 points for the Blazers, who have lost four straight and 10 of their last 11 games. The loss to the Kings eliminated Portland from playoff contention.
Portland was depleted with regular starters Damian Lillard (right calf), Jusuf Nurkic (right knee), Anfernee Simons (right foot) and Jerami Grant (left quad) all nursing injuries. It got a bit worse for Portland on Wednesday when Keon Johnson, who had 20 points in a loss to New Orleans on Monday, broke a finger in shootaround. Only seven Blazers played.
The Kings are 23-14 on the road this season, third-best in the NBA. And they’ve avoided extended losing streaks: The team’s longest came at the start of the season when the Kings opened with four straight.
“Our guys are excited about it,” Kings coach Mike Brown said about finally reaching the playoffs. “They’re excited about the way that they played tonight and the accomplishments that they’ve had so far. They were excited for Keegan. But in the same breath, and not to downplay anything, they expect more.”
Portland had a 20-19 edge after the first quarter, but the Kings took over, going up 44-32 on Huerter’s 3-pointer with 3:51 to go before halftime. Portland closed the gap to 50-46 at the break.
The Kings went on to lead by as many as 40 points in the second half. Domantas Sabonis finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“Biggest difference was in the second half, they started making 3s, and they’re that type of team,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “They’re going to play the same way. They’re going to shoot a lot of 3s, and miss or make, they’re going to play that way. We just couldn’t keep up.”
PRAISE FOR MURRAY
Murray’s milestone was not lost on Brown in the midst of the celebrating.
“Breaking any type of records at the highest level in anything you do is absolutely amazing. And to see Keegan do that tonight, with the way he’s played all year and how hard he’s worked, was an amazing feat,” Brown said. “You don’t take that for granted. That is hard to do when you’re talking about something in the history of something.”
Kings: The Kings were also in a position to clinch Monday, but they fell to Minnesota 119-115. … “I think every experience that we’ve gone through this year can help translate (to the playoffs),” Brown said before the game. “But I’m telling you, we’ll experience it in the playoffs at another level. And every round you advance in the playoffs, it’s going to even take it up another notch.”
Trail Blazers: It will likely be the second straight season the Blazers have missed the postseason. … Forward Justise Winslow had surgery Wednesday on his left ankle. He is expected to be ready to play next season.
The Kings and the Trail Blazers play again Friday night at the Moda Center.
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