NEW YORK — As the final seconds of the Sacramento Kings’ 101-96 victory over the Brooklyn Nets ticked away at Barclays Center on Thursday night, Kings fans launched into a loud “Light The Beam!” chant.
It was a celebratory night on a few levels. The win was Sacramento’s eighth in its last 10 games — the best record of any team in the NBA over that span. It also pushed the Kings to within a half game of the Memphis Grizzlies for the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
But, immediately, he did something bigger: He gave the Kings 42 wins, ensuring Sacramento has a winning record this season.
This may not sound like a big deal. But consider this: The 2022-23 season marks the first time Sacramento has posted a winning record since 2005-06, a 16-season stretch — an NBA record.
The second longest streak? He was also held by the Kings from 1983 to 1998.
“If anything, it means a lot to the fans and the organization,” Kings coach Mike Brown said after the game. “Sacramento, it’s a proud fan base. Hard-working fans are in the city and they don’t get a lot of love across the country in the city, or even in the state of California across the city. So for them to be able to beat their chests and be to be able to walk around with their heads held high and talk to their friends to have a bit of bragging rights, that’s great.
“It’s a little tough for me because I’m not matching March 16 with 42 wins. We’re just trying to chase as many as we can while trying to play the right way — especially this time of year.”
For the Kings and their fans, this time of year has rarely been about preparing for the playoffs.
Until this season, the only coach to set a record for wins — or even 40 wins in a season — with the Kings was Rick Adelman, who did it every year from 1999 to 2006.
To say these were the glory years for this franchise in its nearly 40 years in Sacramento is an understatement. Those Kings, led by Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac, have gone to the playoffs eight straight seasons — eight of the 11 total times the team has made the playoffs in Sacramento — including three trips to the Western Conference semifinals and an extremely memorable seven-game showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2002 conference finals.
For Brown, success is something he’s used to in the NBA. He had six wins in his coaching career, including five with a winning percentage over .600. He’s won a Coach of the Year award (and is the heavy favorite to win runner-up this year), coached in the NBA Finals and won a playoff series in every season he’s coached a team through the following season.
That doesn’t include spending the past six seasons with the Golden State Warriors as Steve Kerr’s top assistant, a streak that included three NBA championships and another trip to the NBA Finals, nor previous deep playoff runs as an assistant coach in San Antonio . Spurs and Indiana Pacers.
It’s been that message — that Brown knows what it’s like to win in the NBA and that he believes the Kings can do it — that he’s been preaching to his players since taking the job last summer.
“I’ve been talking to the guys since day one, so internally, it’s been pretty easy because the guys understand what my messages have been all along and they understand how passionate I am about it,” Brown said. “I feel like this team believes in themselves. Not just because I tell them they’re good, but because they’ve gone out and proven it every time, whether it’s individually in certain situations or collectively. A team.
“When you have a team that believes, they can be dangerous. When you have a team together that believes, they can be a very dangerous team. That’s our team right now.”
It’s easy to see why. Despite outside observers expecting the bottom to fall out of Sacramento’s season, the Kings continued to win. Domantas Sabonis, who had 24 points, 21 rebounds and 5 assists in Thursday night’s win, is poised to make an All-NBA team. So, too, is De’Aaron Fox, who is also a player to win the league’s first Clutch Player of the Year award, which he proved once again with his game-winner against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night in the front-end. of Sacramento back to back sweep.
Meanwhile, Keegan Murray has played a key role in the starting lineup and produced immediately, while Kevin Huerter, an offseason acquisition in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, has solidified the starting 2 guard spot next to Fox, hitting 41% . of 3 on high volume.
They also, Brown said after the game, have been blessed with good health — something that was hit when Huerter landed awkwardly in the first quarter and left the game with a hamstring injury. Sources said, however, that there was optimism that Huerter had suffered no structural problems, although an MRI would determine the severity of the hamstring injury.
And while there are so many star-studded Western Conference teams fighting in the quagmire that is the battle to make the play-in tournament — including teams like the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers, Lakers and Warriors — the Kings have he had none of the gaps in form that these teams have had this season.
That’s why the Kings are poised to do a lot more than just win 42 games — and why they weren’t thrilled with the idea that this was an important win for them.
“I don’t think anybody on our team was going into the season like, ‘We want a winning record,'” Fox said. “But I think it’s good. I think it’s good for the franchise, it’s good for the city, it’s good for the fans to finally get it out of the way.
“But, for us, we know we still want to do bigger things.”
Doing bigger things, though, requires doing big things first. Snapping the league’s longest consecutive losing streak was the first thing on the list. Soon, the Kings will check off another one: snapping a 16-season playoff drought — the longest in NBA history and the current longest active streak among North America’s four major professional sports leagues.
The Kings, though, are hungry for more. And, after the way this season has played out, they have every reason to believe more is possible.