Light the beam: Can Sacramento end playoff drought?

Published January 22, 2023, 7:00 PMYoyo Sarmenta
Yoyo Sarmenta

Are the Sacramento Kings finally poised to enter the postseason this year?

For the better part of the last decade or so, the Sacramento Kings have been one of the laughingstocks of the league. Year after year, season after season, bad decision after bad decision, the franchise was left in the doldrums. 

The Kings haven’t been in the NBA playoffs for 16 long seasons. The height of their powers was their eight straight playoff appearances from 1999 to 2006, highlighted by their 2002 Western Conference Finals run. Those Kings team featured the likes of Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, and Peja Stojakovic. Reviving the glory days of the old Kings is a monumental task. But what can be done is to form a competitive team that their fans can root for night in and night out. 

Enter the 2022-2023 Kings who are first in the Pacific Division and third overall in the Western Conference with a 26-19 record. It’s as if they’re lighting the beam every other game. Not only are they looking at a possible entry into the Play-In Tournament, but to actually enter the top six and get into the playoffs outright. Can they really do it?

We’re almost halfway into the season and a lot can still happen. Nonetheless, it’s a good time to take note of what's happening in Sac Town. How are they pulling this off? 

The stars

To be competitive in the NBA, you need go-to guys. These are the players who can single-handedly dictate the game and give you a fighting chance every night. When the Kings traded for Domantas Sabonis in exchange for Tyrese Haliburton last year, there were mixed reactions to the deal. A season later, it seems that it was a win-win on both parties. Indiana received a young star who can possibly be a franchise player later on in his career. For Sacramento, they got an established All-Star who is still young (26 years old) and can instantly change the course of the franchise. The Kings lost on a potential star in Haliburton but they went all in and got Sabonis in what was perceived as a sort of a “win now” type of move. 

Sabonis is averaging 18.8 points on a career-high 60.9 percent shooting clip from the field, a league-leading 12.7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists. He is third in triple-doubles this season with five, just behind Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic. He provides a versatile threat both on the perimeter and on the block. He’s no Jokic but he has a unique set of skills that not a lot of big men have. The Kings haven’t had a star big man since DeMarcus Cousins and his game is a lot different than Sabonis. The Lithuanian-American is the perfect center for the modern NBA and for the Kings’ system under Mike Brown. 

The Kings also have the luxury of having an All-Star-in-the-making in De’Aaron Fox. The Haliburton trade also signified that the Kings wanted Fox to be the primary ballhander and facilitator. And Fox has delivered. He’s up to 24.0 points as the team’s leading scorer alongside 4.3 boards and 5.9 dimes. More importantly, he’s one of the top clutch performers in the league. He’s in the top five in terms of average points in the clutch (last five minutes and when the scoring margin is within five points). In total, he’s put up 104 points during crunch time, second only to DeMar DeRozan who has 109. He has embraced his role as a closer and as a leader. 

A new coach

Since the 2006-2007 season, the Kings have had 12 coaches. Have they finally found “the one” in Mike Brown? Sure looks like it. 

Brown is a veteran coach who fits right into the young Kings team. Take for example the teaching moment he had with Terence Davis back in late Novemeber. It was a viral moment  in the Kings community because it summed up what good coaching is all about. Brown called a timeout and went out on the court to show Davis where exactly he needed to be. Moments later, Davis read the play right and made a defensive stop, much to the excitement of Brown on the sidelines. 

Brown carries with him all the experiences he’s had in coaching, most notably his championship years with the Golden State Warriors. He’s brought not just the X’s and O’s, but also a winning culture in Sacramento. 

Light the beam

It started off as something innocent and cool. A perennial cellar-dweller team projecting a purple beam of light on top of their arena after every home win was deemed harmless, maybe even cute. Besides, early in the season, not many expected that the beam would be lit so often. 

But “light the beam” has become a mantra, a rallying cry to urge a team to finally break the curse of 16 years of losing. You hear the chants in Sacramento at the Golden 1 Center. You hear the fans shouting even in other arenas, including recently when the Kings defeated the Lakers in Los Angeles. Whether the Kings win away or at home, the beam is lit. 

It has NBA Twitter going crazy every time the Kings win. Players tweet it out. Memes are made. The Kings are joking around and not being the butt of the jokes. 

Having a battle cry has its many uses. It gives the fans something to get behind on. It gives the community a shared slogan to look forward to. Plus, it gives opposing teams and fans something to get irritated about. Like the Warriors’ “Strength In Numbers” or Milwaukee’s “Fear the Deer.” Sacramento’s “Light the Beam” is something that the Kings’ team, organization, and fans can lean on as they try to enter the playoffs. 

The Kings are on pace to finally have a winning season. They have a young core led by two dynamic stars and an experienced mentor at the helm. Before you know it, we might see the beam light up in Sacramento after a playoff game in April.