Two playoff hopefuls dealing with the ramifications of COVID protocols meet Sunday night when the Sacramento Kings visit the Golden State Warriors for a matchup of Western Conference playoff significance.
Already a longshot to sneak into the bottom end of the West’s postseason pack, the Kings (24-35) learned Friday that star point guard De’Aaron Fox would be lost to the team for 10-14 days for COVID-related reasons.
The loss couldn’t come at a worse time for Sacramento, which entered the weekend 5 1/2 games behind Golden State (30-30) and San Antonio in the battle for the last two playoff spots in the West.
The Warriors and Kings have split games this season, meaning Sunday’s winner will earn the tie-breaker advantage.
The Kings are in the same situation with the Spurs, with the winner of their final head-to-head on May 7 claiming the season series.
Fox had 30 points and seven assists in Sacramento’s 128-125 home win over Minnesota on Wednesday. The Kings have won two of their last three.
Fox exploded for 44 points when the Kings smashed their Northern California rival 141-119 last month in the state capital. Golden State was without injured Stephen Curry that night.
Curry had outscored his point guard counterpart 30-18 when the Warriors took the first meeting of the season 137-106 at home in January.
Curry got back on his 30-point horse in Friday’s 118-97 home win over Denver, going for 32 two days after seeing his career-best streak of 30-point games end at 11 with 18 points at Washington.
He got plenty of support against the Nuggets, with Kelly Oubre Jr. going for 23 points, Andrew Wiggins 19, Jordan Poole 15 and Mychal Mulder 14.
Mulder was pressed into starting duties when the Warriors, like the Kings, fell victim to untimely COVID protocols and lost Kent Bazemore and Damion Lee on the eve of the Denver game.
Golden State responded with one of its most complete performances of the season, something Curry says is critical down the stretch of the playoff race.
“Every game’s important for us to try to continue to get better because you play better but also climb the standings, kind of secure your spot and (get) as high as you can get,” he said after the Denver game. “It was a great defensive performance for us, a great win. We got to do it, lock in 12 more times and get ready for hopefully a playoff run.”
Even without Fox, the Kings don’t plan on giving up. Coach Luke Walton announced Saturday that big man Richaun Holmes returned to practice and might end a five-game absence due to a hamstring injury against the Warriors.
Walton also said rookie Tyrese Haliburton would be promoted to Fox’s spot in the starting lineup.
The Rookie of the Year candidate looks forward to playing at San Francisco’s Chase Center, which allowed fans for the first time Friday.
“Anybody who knows me and watched me play growing up knows that I really love that entertainment factor of basketball,” he said. “I love to play in front of fans and put on a show. It just feels good to have fans in the arena again.”
–Field Level Media