SACRAMENTO, Calif. Ron Artest returned from a thumb injury to hit four clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and the Sacramento Kings dealt a big blow to New Orleans' hopes for the top seed in the Western Conference with a 94-91 victory over the Hornets on Saturday night.
The loss dropped the Hornets (55-25) into a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for the top spot in the West with only two games remaining. The Lakers control the tiebreaker with New Orleans based on a better conference record.
Losing back-to-back games to the Lakers and Kings puts the Hornets in trouble in the Southwest Division. They lead San Antonio and Houston by a half-game, meaning they could go from fighting for home-court throughout the Western Conference playoffs to opening on the road when the postseason begins next weekend.
If that does happen, New Orleans can blame a loss to the short-handed Kings. Sacramento was without leading scorer Kevin Martin (right knee) and center Brad Miller (leg and elbow injuries). But Artest returned after missing three of four games with a sprained right thumb and hit all the key shots on the way to a 22-point night.
His back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth gave the Kings the lead for good. He put Sacramento up by seven with 2:55 remaining, then nailed a 3 that made it 91-85 with 51 seconds to go.
TRAIL BLAZERS 108, MAVERICKS 105: At Portland, Ore., Brandon Roy scored 23 points and Portland held off a late challenge to beat Dallas. LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and Jarrett Jack had 19 points and 10 assists for the Blazers, who evened their record at 40-40. Portland, which will miss the playoffs, is hoping for its first winning record since 2002-03.
WARRIORS 122, CLIPPERS 116: At Oakland, Calif., Baron Davis had 25 points and nine assists, Stephen Jackson added 28 points and the Golden State Warriors kept their waning playoff hopes realistic. Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins scored 17 points apiece for the Warriors, whose victory coupled with the Nuggets' 124-97 loss at Utah earlier in the night left Golden State and Denver tied for eighth place.
CELTICS 99, HAWKS 89: At Atlanta, Sam Cassell and Boston's backups outplayed Atlanta's starters in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics prevented the Hawks from clinching their first playoff berth since 1999. Atlanta would have ended the NBA's longest playoff drought with a victory, because Indiana lost to Charlotte earlier Saturday. The Hawks remained two games ahead of the Pacers with two to play, lowering their magic number to one for the right to face the Celtics in a first-round series.
BOBCATS 107, PACERS 103: At Indianapolis, Jason Richardson scored 26 points, and Charlotte dealt a severe blow to Indiana's playoff hopes. With the loss and Atlanta's loss to Boston, the Pacers need to win their last two and have the Hawks lose their final two to get into the playoffs.
WIZARDS 109, 76ERS 93: At Washington, Gilbert Arenas scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, when Washington outscored Philadelphia 31-9. The victory means the Wizards can finish no worse than sixth in the Eastern Conference, and that they can't be caught by the 76ers.
NETS 111, BUCKS 98: At Milwaukee, Richard Jefferson scored 24 points and Vince Carter added 21.
TIMBERWOLVES 114, GRIZZLIES 105: At Memphis, Tenn., Kirk Snyder had 22 points and 11 rebounds in a game between two of the NBA's worst teams.