Considering what could be at stake in the regular-season finale, there sure will be a lot of key players missing when the Utah Jazz (51-20) visit the Sacramento Kings (31-40) on Sunday night.
If the Phoenix Suns (50-21) lose to the San Antonio Spurs in their Sunday matinee showdown, this game will be meaningless in terms of playoff seeding. But should the Suns win, it would put the pressure on the Jazz to close out the season with a win in order to maintain the No. 1 spot they’ve mostly had for the past few months.
The Kings were eliminated from the postseason for the 15th straight year on Thursday.
Sacramento will rely on its young core of unknowns to pull off the upset. Kings coach Luke Walton told reporters that De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes will not play in the last game of the season.
The Jazz won’t have All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, who’s still nursing an ankle injury, but Mike Conley did make his return Friday after missing a few weeks with hamstring issues. He scored 10 points in limited minutes. Conley didn’t play in the second half but said he knows the Jazz know he wants to play and are protecting him.
“I went out there and had fun,” he said. “It was a lot of fun getting to the paint and making plays. Got to the free-throw line a lot. Kind of feeling out the game and picking and choosing my spots to be aggressive.”
“Mike’s a huge part of what we do,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “He’s one of our leaders, he’s our most experienced player. We know that we’re going to need him.”
If the Jazz win, they’ll clinch the top seed throughout the playoffs. If the Suns win and the Jazz lose, Utah will finish No. 2 overall.
Conley said it’s not a big deal that Mitchell has been out for the last month with his sprained ankle.
“We can incorporate ourselves really easily,” he said.
The Kings nearly pulled off an upset win on Friday despite going deep into their bench.
Sacramento had a last-second, game-winning 3-point attempt by Terence Davis bounce off the rim in a loss to Memphis.
Sacramento coach Luke Walton said, “The overall effort was great.”
The Kings were especially impressed by recent two-way signee Louis King, who had a team-high 27 points.
“A lot of people don’t get this chance,” King said. “Not everyone in the NBA can say they got the opportunity to play a lot of big minutes. Fortunately, Coach looked my way, and I took it as an opportunity for myself and a chance for me to shine.”