By Mark Haynes | Special to The OBSERVER
The last time the Sacramento Kings made the postseason was in 2006. Atlanta rapper Yung Joc’s hit “It’s Going Down” was the No. 1 rap single on the Billboard charts. Kings rookie Keegan Murray was 5.
The drought officially ended after the Kings routed the host Portland Trail Blazers 120-80 at the Moda Center on March 29. The beam was lit and fans in Sacramento began to celebrate. The party continued until the team returned home two days later. Hundreds of fans eagerly waited outside the airport to greet the players and coaches as they got in their cars to drive home.
It has been 16 seasons since the Kings competed in the postseason. Once the team officially secured a spot in this year’s playoffs, The OBSERVER spoke with some loyal fans outside Golden 1 Center. Some fans had given up hope, but others never did.
“I always think they got a chance to make the playoffs,” Tory Smith of Sacramento – sporting a Domantas Sabonis jersey and a Kings cap – told The OBSERVER during a recent hiccup, a loss to the lowly Spurs on April 2. “I’m the hopeless optimistic fan every year. Even when we didn’t have the roster to compete in the wild West, I always believed they could.”
After a win against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, the Kings became this season’s Pacific Division champions, something they haven’t done since the 2002-03 season and an achievement at least one fan didn’t see coming.
“I thought they would use this year to jell a little more, then make a real run next year,” said Tony Gladney, celebrating with his wife and daughter. “But they surprised me.”
Now that the Kings have proven to be one of the NBA’s best teams this season, the question is how far they will go. True, 9, said he believes the Kings can win it all because of his favorite player De’Aaron Fox. Meanwhile, his younger brother Jakai is pulling for Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks to meet the Kings in the Finals.
Full of excitement, longtime Kings supporter Smith believes his favorite team can do some damage once the playoffs start. “I think they can go all the way. Their style of play caters to today’s NBA game,” he said. “Everyone talks about the defensive end and how that needs to be cleaned up. But I believe our soon-to-be coach of the year, Mike Brown, can make those adjustments.”
As the Western Conference third seed, the Kings will have home-court advantage in the first round. That could help them fulfill Smith’s bold prediction.
Although Gladney was surprised by the Kings and his expectations have changed, he still made a conservative prediction regarding postseason success.
“I think they will get out of the first round,” Gladney told The OBSERVER.
This year, a first-round matchup versus Stephen Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors could happen. It would be the first time the franchises have met in the postseason. When asked who would win that series, Gladney repeated four words swiftly.
“I’ll take the Kings,” he said. “I’ll take the Kings.”