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New Orleans at Sacramento

Artest returns in style to deal Hornets costly loss

CBSSports.com wire reports
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- David West and the New Orleans Hornets have bigger worries right now than playoff positioning in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

West knows if the Hornets don't start playing better immediately, it won't matter what seed they get.

New Orleans fell out of sole possession of the top spot in the conference Saturday night, falling 94-91 to a lottery-bound Sacramento Kings team missing leading scorer Kevin Martin.

Ron Artest took up the scoring slack for Sacramento by hitting four clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and scoring 22 points to send the Hornets to their third loss in four games.

"We can't guard anybody. Our defense is nonexistent," West said. "This is the worst loss for us of the year because we knew how important these last few games are. ... We've been up top of the West just about all year. It's a shame that we're in a position where we could let it slip away from us the last week of the regular season just because we can't put together a good basketball game."

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.

By losing back-to-back games to the Lakers and Kings, the Hornets are also in trouble in the Southwest Division. They lead San Antonio and Houston by only 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.

"Easily the worst loss of the season," All-Star point guard Chris Paul said. "Coming off a whipping yesterday against the Lakers and then we come out tonight and understand that if we win this game we still control our own destiny. Now we're just about tied with everybody else and we have to watch the standings instead of just worrying about winning ourselves."

They can blame a loss to a Kings team missing Martin (right knee) and center Brad Miller (leg and elbow injuries) for that. But Artest returned after missing three of four games with a sprained right thumb and hit all the key shots for Sacramento.

His back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth gave the Kings the lead for good. He put Sacramento up by seven with another long-range shot with 2:55 remaining, then nailed an off-balance 3 from the corner that made it 91-85 with 51 seconds to go.

New Orleans stayed in it, getting three free throws by Morris Peterson to cut it to four with 23 seconds left after a bad foul by Francisco Garcia. After a five-second violation by Sacramento on the inbound pass, Peja Stojakovic hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to make it 92-91.

John Salmons hit two free throws to make it a three-point game and Stojakovic missed a 3-pointer from straightaway that would have tied it.

"We didn't deserve to go into overtime," coach Byron Scott said. "We got exactly what we deserved and that's a loss."

Salmons added 18 points and 11 rebounds and Garcia also had 16 points and two big blocked shots for the Kings, who will play a key role in the race for the top seed because they finish the season with games against San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers next week.

"We're mucking it up," coach Reggie Theus said. "You can't do anything but smile about it. We haven't given up. Our effort was phenomenal."

West led New Orleans with 30 points and 15 rebounds, and Stojakovic added 18 points. But Paul had another rough shooting night, finishing with 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting. Paul did have 12 assists, but is shooting just 16-for-48 the last four games.

New Orleans went on a 15-2 run in the third quarter that was helped out by poor foul shooting by the Kings. Spencer Hawes missed a pair, including an airball on his second attempt, and Salmons also missed two free throws as the Hornets built an eight-point lead.

But Sacramento moved back into the lead early in the fourth on back-to-back 3-pointers by Artest. That sparked a 10-0 run that made it 80-75 and was capped by a basket from Garcia, who also blocked two shots in the stretch.

"We didn't have Kevin tonight and we didn't have Brad and we beat the first-place team," Garcia said. "It shows that when we play hard and we play together it's hard to beat us."

Notes

  • After allowing a season-worst 140 points in a loss at Golden State on Tuesday, Sacramento has given up just 177 in wins over Portland and New Orleans the past two nights.
  • The Hornets are 14-3 in the second game of back-to-backs.
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
 
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Ron Artest nails some clutch 3-pointers and scores 22 points in stinging the Hornets.  (Getty Images)
Ron Artest nails some clutch 3-pointers and scores 22 points in stinging the Hornets. (Getty Images)
Scoreboard
New Orleans (55-25) 2722241891
Sacramento (38-42) «2626162694
NO:D. West 30 Pts
NO:D. West 15 Reb
NO:C. Paul 12 Ast
SAC:R. Artest 22 Pts
SAC:J. Salmons 11 Reb
SAC:R. Artest 4 Ast
Players of the Game
SacramentoNew Orleans

R. Artest

D. West
PtsRebsAstPtsRebsAst
228430153

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New Orleans
D. West, PF4213-274-4153430
C. Paul, PG424-136-7612314
T. Chandler, C405-93-6131413
P. Stojakovic, SG396-164-441318
M. Peterson, SG291-65-53028
B. Wells, SG191-40-22022
J. Pargo, PG122-90-00014
M. James, PG60-10-01010
J. Wright, SF61-10-01102
H. Armstrong, PF50-00-01120
R. Bowen, SFDid Not Play
C. Andersen, PFDid Not Play
R. Butler, SGDid Not Play
M. Ely, CDid Not Play
Totals 33-8622-2846192291
 38.4%78.6% 
Sacramento
J. Salmons, SF468-132-4113118
R. Artest, SF449-190-084122
M. Moore, PF272-20-06144
B. Udrih, PG263-93-43149
S. Hawes, C245-81-453311
F. Garcia, SF295-144-452516
S. Williams, PF244-61-44049
Q. Douby, SG212-70-01225
S. Abdur-Rahim, PFDid Not Play
A. Johnson, PGDid Not Play
L. Wright, CDid Not Play
B. Miller, CDid Not Play
K. Thomas, PFDid Not Play
K. Martin, SGDid Not Play
Totals 38-7811-2043162494
 48.7%55.0% 
Other Games
Bos 99 Final
Atl 89
Char 107 Final
Ind 103
Phi 93 Final
Wash 109
Min 114 Final
Mem 105
NJ 111 Final
Mil 98
Den 97 Final
Utah 124
Dal 105 Final
Port 108
LAC 116 Final
GS 122