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Kings need more consistency to have a shot at the Western Conference playoffs – NBC Sports Bay Area and California

The Kings have made many improvements, so it is no longer a surprise to see them competing for a spot in the NBA playoffs.

The problem is that just being mentioned in postseason conversations isn’t enough.

For Sacramento to be considered a legitimate contender, the Kings must win an actual playoff series — something the franchise hasn’t accomplished since reaching the Western Conference semifinals in 2003-04.

It’s a task that won’t get easier anytime soon. The West is absolutely charged this season. Remember, the Kings and Golden State Warriors finished this year with nearly identical records to last year. But a year ago, the two teams faced off in the first round of the playoffs as the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds. This season, the two teams became embroiled in 9-10 NBA Play-In Tournament play.

“The West isn’t getting any easier,” Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said Friday after Sacramento’s season ended with a play-in loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. “It’s obviously a disappointment not to be in the play-offs and not be one of the top eight teams, but we have something to build on. You look forward to going into next season.”

There’s plenty to clean up, and consistency is at the top of the list.

Sacramento has had more than two straight wins only three times after the first month of the 2023-24 NBA season, and only one of those streaks lasted longer than three straight games.

The Kings stumbled down the stretch, losing six of their final eight games during the regular season, with the loss coinciding with the injury loss of sixth man and potential free agent-to-be Malik Monk.

Friday’s loss was also the Kings’ sixth in game six against New Orleans, and the Pelicans are one of the teams looming over Sacramento in the Western Conference.

The Kings got solid production from two of their biggest stars, Fox and Domantas Sabonis, but it wasn’t nearly enough to get Sacramento over the playoff hump.

“Obviously this was a tough loss for us,” coach Mike Brown told reporters at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. “We know we could have played better, but it is what it is. They defeated us. They earned it. But we’ll figure it out. Next year we will be better.”

Even Brown acknowledged that rising in the West won’t be easy.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen a more competitive conference like this from top to bottom,” Brown said. “Literally, I think anyone can beat anyone on any given night.”

That’s where consistency at every stage will help the Kings take the next step.

They played well at times in the loss to the Pelicans, but they had to overcome too many costly, self-inflicted mistakes. Sacramento committed 15 turnovers that led to 17 points for New Orleans, and was outscored 58-44 in the paint, despite the Pels missing their main force in the middle, Zion Williamson.

It was a fundamental microcosm of the entire season for Sacramento, which was up and down for most of the year.

So despite back-to-back postseason appearances after an NBA-record 16-season drought, there’s clearly still work to be done.

“No one is happy with the way we finished the season, but there is obviously a lot more stability than in the past,” Fox said. But ultimately we have to get better as a team.”