Kings bid to regain footing in showdown vs. Suns

The Sacramento Kings are on a downhill slide at a very bad time.

Sacramento’s slump knocked the club out of contention for an automatic Western Conference playoff spot. Now the Kings will look to regain their footing when they host the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.

Sacramento (45-35) has lost four of its last five games after dropping a 135-123 home decision to the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night. The Kings now own the same record as the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers with two games to go.

Gaining the No. 7 or No. 8 spot is now the preferred outcome for Sacramento. Landing in one of those spots sets up the potential to join the NBA playoffs by winning your initial play-in game.

Teams that play in the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game require two play-in victories to reach the postseason.

“It’s all up to us,” Kings star De’Aaron Fox said. “We put ourselves in this position.”

Fox insisted the outlook hasn’t dimmed due to the recent struggles.

“We still have a chance to make the playoffs,” Fox said. “It’s not like we’re walking with our heads down. … We have to be better.”

The Suns (47-33) are in their own battle. They trail the sixth-place Pelicans (48-32) by one game. The good thing for Phoenix is that it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker due to a 2-1 series edge over New Orleans this season.

The Suns close the season Sunday by visiting the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Pelicans visit the Warriors on Friday and host the Lakers on Sunday.

If Phoenix defeats the Kings, Sacramento can finish no higher than eighth in the West.

Phoenix has won eight of its past 12 games after splitting a home-and-home with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns dug themselves a 35-4 hole on Tuesday while falling 105-92 at home before bouncing back for a 124-108 road win on Wednesday.

Star guard Devin Booker said the team can’t afford to have any more anemic starts to games with so much at stake.

“We’ve been preaching with the play-in that all these games are already playoff games,” Booker said. “It’s going to be high intensity, if you lose it’s going to be the worst loss ever. If you win, good win.”

Booker had 37 points in Wednesday’s victory. Bradley Beal added 26 points and Kevin Durant had 24 to go along with nine rebounds.

“Around this time of the year, you’re just trying to win games regardless of the context involved,” Durant said.

Phoenix coach Frank Vogel shook up the starting lineup Wednesday by starting Royce O’Neale and bringing Grayson Allen off the bench. O’Neale responded well by recording 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 33 minutes.

Allen, though, had just six points on 2-of-5 shooting. He is 5 of 23 from 3-point range and is still bothered by a hip injury that caused him to miss a game on April 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Vogel said the coaching staff is considering keeping O’Neale in the starting lineup for play-in or playoff games.

“When you get into or near the playoffs, everything is on the table,” Vogel said. “So those things will all be discussed.”

For the Kings, Fox recorded 33 points and eight assists as Sacramento dropped to 0-5 against the Pelicans this season. Domantas Sabonis added 18 points and 10 rebounds for his 75th double-double of the campaign.

The Kings and Suns split the previous four meetings this season.