SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In the deafening moments after Beno Udrih made an off-balance, go-ahead jumper with 1.7 seconds left, Arco Arena pulsed with every bit the same audible energy it possessed during the Sacramento Kings' heyday with Vlade Divac, whose jersey was retired at halftime.
Butler hit a 3-pointer as time expired to cap a final minute full of dramatic plays, and the Hornets improbably survived the Kings' late rally for a 111-110 victory on Tuesday night, improving their playoff position by the slimmest of margins.
"Way to spoil the night, 'Sual!" guard Antonio Daniels shouted in the Hornets' jubilant locker room.
David West matched his career high with 40 points despite injuring his ankle in the second quarter, and Chris Paul had 15 points and 15 assists as the Hornets snatched a win from the Kings, who thought they had it when Udrih beat the shot clock with a fallaway that looked like a terrible idea until it went in. Kings owner Gavin Maloof leaped onto the court to celebrate, and Divac beamed with pride.
Butler then came off a screen for a simple inbounds pass, found himself wide open and coolly drilled his fourth 3-pointer. Butler's teammates mobbed him, celebrating their move into sixth place in the Western Conference standings after blowing an eight-point lead in the final minutes.
"Coach drew the play up for me, and we figured they'd probably try to switch some things," Butler said. "I expected to get a look, but I didn't think it would be that good of a look. ... We just stuck with it. We knew we'd have to withstand their runs and show some resilience. It's important for our playoff position."
Andres Nocioni hit five 3-pointers while scoring 23 points and Kevin Martin added 20 for the Kings, who hung Divac's No. 21 jersey in the Arco rafters during a halftime ceremony. Francisco Garcia scored 19 points, hitting two big shots and blocking Paul's layup from behind in the final two minutes, yet Sacramento still failed to win consecutive games for the first time since early November.
Interim coach Kenny Natt acknowledged his young team blew its defensive rotation at the end.
"We didn't do what we talked about doing on that play," Natt said. "We've had a lot of pain this year. It hurts a little more from a standpoint that we played as well as we did, Beno hit that shot, and then we didn't execute on defense."
With New Orleans native and Hornets fan Lil Wayne cheering raucously from his courtside seat, Butler finished with 18 points for the Hornets, who opened a three-game road trip without injured regulars Tyson Chandler, James Posey and Peja Stojakovic.
New Orleans' victory and Utah's 21-point loss to Portland pushed the Hornets past the Jazz into sixth in the conference standings. But the Hornets are just 1½ games behind third-place Houston and San Antonio, who lead the Southwest Division -- and New Orleans has a game in hand on both the Rockets and Spurs.
West added nine rebounds and six assists to his 15 field goals despite limping on an ankle that might keep him out of Wednesday's game against the Clippers. Coach Byron Scott said: "For tomorrow, it does not look good."
"After what [West] did in the playoffs with a bad back, you knew he was going to play on that ankle," said Paul, who also had eight rebounds. "It's a real big win for us, especially with our playoff situation, and possibly missing D-West tomorrow night."
The Hornets led 103-95 with 5½ minutes to play, but Garcia hit a long jumper with 1:38 left to tie it at 105. Paul immediately threaded a pass inside to West, who hit a layup and tied his previous career high on a free throw -- but Garcia answered with a tying 3-pointer.
After two missed free throws and a turnover, Paul then drove for a layup -- but Garcia swooped in from behind to swat it off the backboard, eventually leading to Udrih's big shot.
"It was a crazy night," said rookie Jason Thompson, who had eight points. "I got my jersey retired this year [at Rider], so I kind of know how it feels. I had chills in this game."
Chris Webber, Doug Christie and Scot Pollard attended the game to honor Divac, their teammate and emotional leader during the most successful seasons in franchise history. Stojakovic, who sat out with back spasms, received a standing ovation from the Sacramento crowd at halftime.
"I'm sure the Kings are going to be back again with the atmosphere that we had here in the late '90s and early 2000s," Divac said before the game.
|The Hornets swarm Rasual Butler (second from right), who ends the game with a buzzer-beating 3. (AP)|
|New Orleans (46-27) «||32||32||22||25||111|
|NO:D. West 40 Pts
NO:D. West 9 Reb
NO:C. Paul 15 Ast
|SAC:A. Nocioni 23 Pts
SAC:B. Udrih 7 Reb
SAC:B. Udrih 6 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|R. Butler, SG||44||7-16||0-0||3||1||1||18|
|D. West, PF||43||15-25||10-10||9||6||1||40|
|C. Paul, PG||42||5-15||5-6||8||15||5||15|
|J. Wright, SF||31||7-8||0-1||5||2||2||14|
|H. Armstrong, PF||23||4-6||1-4||7||0||4||9|
|D. Brown, SG||26||3-5||1-4||3||2||3||7|
|S. Marks, C||18||1-2||1-2||4||0||3||3|
|A. Daniels, PG||7||2-3||0-0||1||0||0||5|
|M. Peterson, SG||7||0-2||0-0||1||0||2||0|
|R. Bowen, SF||Did Not Play|
|P. Stojakovic, SG||Did Not Play|
|J. Posey, SF||Did Not Play|
|T. Chandler, C||Did Not Play|
|M. Ely, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|K. Martin, SG||45||5-13||7-9||3||3||2||20|
|S. Hawes, C||36||6-13||4-4||6||5||2||17|
|B. Udrih, PG||34||4-8||0-0||7||6||3||8|
|A. Nocioni, SF||34||8-14||2-2||6||1||4||23|
|J. Thompson, PF||27||2-6||4-6||2||0||3||8|
|F. Garcia, SF||30||7-11||2-2||2||1||4||19|
|R. McCants, SG||23||5-9||1-2||3||2||4||13|
|D. Greene, SF||12||0-2||2-2||0||0||1||2|
|B. Jackson, PG||Did Not Play|
|C. Booth, C||Did Not Play|
|K. Thomas, PF||Did Not Play|
|W. Solomon, PG||Did Not Play|
|I. Diogu, PF||Did Not Play|
|C. Simmons, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|