Programming note: Watch the Kings take on the Warriors at 7:00 on Comcast SportsNet California (territorial restrictions apply)
The Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings are likely returning from the All-Star break without their franchise centers.
Andrew Bogut sat out the last two practices for Golden State after a flare reaction from a cortisone shot in his ailing left shoulder and is out indefinitely. DeMarcus Cousins is coping with a strained hip flexor that is expected to sideline him when the Kings host the Warriors on Wednesday night in the first game following the break for both teams.
That's about where the similarities end between the Northern California rivals.
The Warriors (31-22) are hoping to start a strong late-season push to the playoffs for the second straight year. The rebuilding Kings (18-35) are simply hoping to finish strong as they head toward an eighth consecutive losing season.
The difference in how the teams are approaching the stretch run was evident when they reconvened for practice this week.
While the Kings publicly refuted rumors ahead of Thursday's trade deadline, the Warriors held a players' meeting after a workout Monday night. Several veterans spoke up, notably backup center Jermaine O'Neal, who has battled a nagging right wrist injury most of the season - his 18th in the NBA.
O'Neal, who is expected to play more until Bogut returns, believes the Warriors' success hinges on their "will to win."
"I look at as 29 games left in my career," O'Neal said he told his teammates. "That's all I know that's guaranteed right now. And whatever I have to do in these 29 games, I'm going to have to do. There was a purpose in me sitting out the last two games from the team's perspective, and I'm going to give whatever I got. If I'm going to be wheeled off after 29 games, then I'll be wheeled off. It's about winning."
The Warriors have had plenty of success this season - they've just struggled to sustain it.
They won 10 in a row - with seven of the victories coming on the road - before dropping several games at home to teams with losing records, including Washington, Charlotte, Minnesota and Denver. After talking during training camp about reaching the Western Conference finals, the Warriors are closer to missing the postseason than having home-court advantage in the first round.
Golden State began Tuesday tied with Phoenix for the eighth seed in the West. Both were 1 1/2 games ahead of Memphis and five games behind the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers, who were fourth in the conference.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson said the experience of going through a playoff push - and then the playoffs - last season should help his team this time around.
"It's valuable. You can't pay for that type of experience," Jackson said. "Going through what we went through last year to close out the regular season and also in the postseason, it allows us not to be afraid of the moment. Bright lights don't affect us. We're embracing this next stretch."
About 80 miles north on Interstate 80, Sacramento is still trying to lay the foundation of a rebuilding project that's likely years away from completion.
New Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro has been busy making moves all season, including a seven-player trade to acquire Rudy Gay from Toronto in December. One move D'Alessandro promised not to make is parting ways with rookie Ben McLemore, telling reporters after Tuesday's practice in Sacramento that he has not - and will not - include the seventh overall pick in any trade talks.
Defense and discipline remain a constant struggle for the Kings, who have been trying to surround Cousins with more talented players. Now Cousins' status is in doubt after he got injured in New York in Sacramento's final game before the break.
First-year Kings coach Michael Malone said Cousins is "very questionable" for Wednesday's game. No matter who's on the floor, though, Malone said this is a critical stretch for the franchise's future.
"We have 29 games to establish our identity - to defend, to rebound and to run with discipline," said Malone, who spent the previous two seasons as Jackson's top assistant with the Warriors. "My hope is we can finish the season on a strong note, which we can carry into next season."