From 1999 to 2006, the Sacramento Kings made the NBA playoffs eight consecutive times, which broke their franchise record of seven seasons. Over that span of time, the Kings played the Los Angeles Lakers in the postseason 16 times, including seven times in 2002 for the Western Conference Finals.
Since then, the Kings and Lakers have been bitter rivals, and although neither team has been competitive in recent years, the games haven’t lost their luster. However, the peak of that rivalry was almost 20 years ago and the newer generation of Kings fans might not fully understand or appreciate it as much as the old guard does. The same can be said of the Kings’ NorCal rivalry with the Golden State Warriors, especially given the latter’s recent success.
That begs the question: do the Kings even have a real rival anymore? The short answer is no: rivalries are built on competition, which, in the NBA, is most prominent in a postseason environment. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs in 14 years.
That doesn’t mean they won’t have a rival again soon, though. In fact, it could happen as soon as this season.
The Kings, with a 28-36 recored, were invited to compete for a playoff spot in Orlando in July. There are two ways they can sneak into the postseason: by finishing with a record that’s more than four games better than the No. 9 seed, or by finishing with a record that’s four games within the No. 8 seed. The latter would result in a play-in tournament in which the No. 9 see would advance by winning two games and losing zero.
The Kings are currently 3.5 games back of the No. 8 seed, but so are the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans. The Kings already finished their season series with the Trail Blazers, tying them 2-2, but they’re set to play the Pelicans twice in their eight-game seeding schedule. Although those games won’t be playoff games, the stakes will be high for both teams, and a loss for either one of them will string that any regular season loss.
The makeup of the Kings’ and Pelicans’ rosters also sets the table for a friendly rivalry. Both teams are young and like to play fast, and the success in which they do that is dependent on their young point guards, De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball. Fox famously dropped 39 points on Ball and UCLA in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, which prompted comments from both Fox and Ball’s fathers
Add in the fact that Buddy Hield was traded from the Pelicans to the Kings in 2017, and the potential for matchups between former Duke one-and-dones Zion Williamson and Marvin Bagley III, both of whom were top-two picks in their respective drafts, and the stage is set for an exciting rivalry between the NBA’s two youngest teams. We’ll see if they can live up to the hype when the games start to matter in August.