Revenge of the losers (daily newspaper Junge Welt)

Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Network/IMAGO

Domantas Sabonis von den Sacramento Kings beim Dunking

There are only a few weeks left until the start of the playoffs in the National Basketball Association (NBA). From April 15, 16 teams will play for the championship in a tournament system. One of them is the Sacramento Kings. The 120-80 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday made qualifying perfect. The team from the capital of the US state of California is currently in third place in the Western Conference with a record of 46 wins and 30 losses.

With this year’s playoff participation of the Kings, the longest negative series in all of US sports ends. Sacramento’s sporting dry spell lasted no less than 16 years. In mid-March, the hitherto chronically unsuccessful franchise reached its first milestone: With the 101:96 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, it was clear that the Kings would end the regular season on a positive note. That hasn’t happened in 16 years either.

“I don’t think anyone on our team went into the season with a specific goal of being on the positive side,” said star player De’Aaron Fox after the game. ‘But I think that’s good. It’s good for the franchise, it’s good for the city, it’s good for the fans to finally be able to do it again. But we players know we want to achieve bigger things.«

If “achieving bigger things” meant Fox could play in the championship, basketball pundits are skeptical. So does former hit coach-turned-TV commentator Jeff Van Gundy, who says the Kings’ defense is too weak for it, as he said on journalist Zach Lowe’s podcast last week. “The manager Monte McNair has done a great job in restructuring the squad,” he added appreciatively.

Before the season, the Kings weren’t considered playoff contenders, especially since the Western Conference is littered with top teams. While the Golden State Warriors or the Phoenix Suns have so far lacked the necessary consistency, Sacramento has surprisingly come to the fore with the best offensive in the league.

In addition to Fox, the most effective NBA player in the crucial phase at the end of a game, this is mainly due to the center and power forward Domantas Sabonis. The 26-year-old Lithuanian is the son of basketball legend Arvydas Sabonis and came to Sacramento in February last year. For him, the Kings gave their point guard Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers. A swap that the public saw as a typical Kings move at the time, i.e. a personnel decision that was not particularly conclusive in terms of sport. Haliburton was seen as the best young player on the roster, a hope for the future. It has now been shown that the Kings actually made a good decision here. That was rare in recent years, as the 16-year playoff abstinence confirms.

Those responsible for McNair also convinced with other transfers: Before the season they committed Mike Brown as the new head coach, who had previously worked as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors. Here, too, fans and experts were initially skeptical, Brown’s time as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers was not particularly successful. Brown is currently considered one of the favorites for the title “Coach of the Year”.

The unexpected successes seem like the revenge of the loser in Hollywood teenage films, who in the end, against all odds, wins the heart of the prom queen. And even if the relatively poor defense (currently ranked 25 out of 30) should stand in the way of a long run in the playoffs, Sacramento can certainly provide one or the other positive surprise. The Kings now seem to have a knack for that.


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