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Rockets face Kings ahead of postseason opener
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- If given their choice and presented with an opportunity to be honest, the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings probably would both admit they would rather not even play their regular-season finale.
But they don't have a choice, and no such admission is coming.
So, the Rockets and Kings will suit up and insist they won't just go through the motions when they play Wednesday at the Golden 1 Center.
"People pay for their tickets," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni told the Houston Chronicle last week.
The folks in Houston are getting a better bang for their buck than the Sacramento fans.
The Rockets (65-16) long ago wrapped up the NBA's best record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The only mystery for them is which team they will play, and the path that might await them.
Houston may not find out its opponent until after its contest with the Kings.
Minnesota and Denver entered Tuesday's action tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and they both were one game behind San Antonio, Oklahoma City and New Orleans. All of those teams play their finale on Wednesday.
"The ultimate goal is holding that trophy up," Houston guard James Harden told the Houston Chronicle. "So, until we do that, there's no celebrations. We haven't done anything yet."
Harden enters the finale averaging 30.4 points, more than two per game better than runner-up Anthony Davis of New Orleans, and he could win his first scoring title. He also needs nine points to reach 2,200 points for the fourth straight season.
Houston's bigger concern is injuries.
Forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who averages 26 minutes per game, suffered a dislocated right shoulder in Houston's 105-99 road win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. The Rockets already were without forward Ryan Anderson (ankle).
Houston's 105-99 win over the Lakers prevented the Rockets from having their first two-game losing streak since January. The Rockets have gone 38-5 since that skid.
Summer vacation starts early for the 12th straight year in Sacramento.
The Kings (26-55) will wind up with their lowest win total over a full campaign since a 24-58 finish in 2010-11. But they haven't stopped playing hard, as evidenced by a 98-85 loss in San Antonio on Monday.
"We fought, we scrapped," coach Dave Joerger told the Sacramento Bee. "We were not out there just soaking up minutes."
The Kings' season has been in keeping with what Sacramento said it would offer. General manager Vlade Divac made it clear before the season even started that the Kings were starting anew and playing for the future.
The season will be known for the development of guards Buddy Hield (13.5 points per game in his first full season since being acquired for DeMarcus Cousins); top draft pick De'Aaron Fox (11.6 points per game and a team-best 4.4 assists) and European transplant Bogdan Bogdanovic (11.8 points per game, including 12.4 per game since the All-Star break).
It also will be remembered for the surreal nature of their last long homestand, during which protests against a police shooting of a Sacramento man was the backdrop to four losses in six games.
The Kings' 13 home victories overall are the second fewest in basketball, behind only the Phoenix Suns (10). The Kings opened their home campaign and season with a 105-100 loss to the Rockets. They will close out the season against the same team they opened it against for the first time since winning the opener and finale against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12.
Updated April 11, 2018