Two teams seeking their first win in the NBA bubble go head-to-head Tuesday afternoon when the Dallas Mavericks face the Sacramento Kings.
The game has much greater meaning to the Kings (28-38), who must remain within four games of eighth place in the Western Conference in order to earn a spot in the new play-in tournament. The Mavericks (40-29) are all but locked into the No. 7 seed.
The Kings have not taken advantage of what was calculated to be the second-easiest schedule after last week’s restart, falling 129-120 to San Antonio and then 132-116 to Orlando.
If there’s a glimmer of hope that remains for Sacramento, it’s that the Kings still get two shots at one of the teams ahead of them (New Orleans) as well as a crack at one of the weakest teams in the East in the Brooklyn Nets.
“You just got to keep fighting. Still have six games left,” Kings big man Harry Giles insisted to reporters after Sunday’s loss to Orlando. “Can’t get too down on ourselves because it’s still basketball, and if you quit now, you’re going to be done. There’s no need to have six games left and have no fight left. We’ve got to have some fight.
“It’s frustrating because we had high hopes coming in here. I’m not saying that it’s over. I’m just saying that it’s a tough spot for us right now. We just have to stay positive.”
The Kings have come up short despite a couple of outstanding individual efforts. De’Aaron Fox bombed in 39 points in the opening loss to the Spurs, before Giles went for 23 against Orlando.
The problem has been the Sacramento defense. It allowed the Spurs to shoot 53.3 percent and the Magic 52.4.
A major disparity has come from beyond the 3-point arc, despite the fact that the Spurs (26th) and Magic (23rd) both rank near the bottom of the NBA in threes made entering Monday’s play.
The Spurs outshot the Kings 44.0 percent to 31.6 from deep in their matchup, while the Magic got the better of Sacramento 47.4 percent to 28.6.
All told, the Kings have been outscored 87-60 on 3-pointers in the two games.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, clinched a playoff spot despite 153-149 (overtime) and 117-115 losses to Houston and Phoenix, respectively.
At the same time, they haven’t been able to accomplish a goal most teams in the West have had in Florida: Avoiding the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.
“To be in and be assured of (no worse than) the seventh position is good,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle noted to reporters over the weekend. “But we came here to move up.”
The No. 7 finisher in the West likely will open the playoffs against the Clippers.
The Mavericks have been a two-man show in the bubble, with Kristaps Porzingis averaging 34.5 points and Luka Doncic 34.0.
Porzingis had 39 points in the loss to Houston, a game in which Doncic had 28 and Tim Hardaway Jr. chipped in with 24.
Doncic bombed in 40 against Phoenix, but Hardaway shot just 1-for-12 and contributed just two points. Porzingis tallied 30.
The Mavericks have won two of three from the Kings this season, with each team winning once on the opponent’s floor.
Doncic has been the leading scorer in the matchup so far with a 28.3-point average. Porzingis had a 27-point outing in the most recent matchup in February.
Buddy Hield has gone for 24.3 in the three games to lead the Kings.
–Field Level Media