SACRAMENTO -- If the Sacramento Kings were in the Eastern Conference, they would be in the thick of the playoff race with huge meaning in every game. In the power-packed West, they have long been eliminated and must take solace in playing the role of spoiler.
Ron Artest scored 30 points, Kevin Martin added 27 and the Kings dealt a blow to Houston's chances of winning the Southwest Division with a 99-98 victory over the Rockets on Tuesday night.
"It's nice that we can play a role in the Western Conference," coach Reggie Theus said. "The guys understand we have a role to play. If our role is to muck it up, that's what we'll do. It gives us something to play for and it's a big win for us down the stretch."
The Rockets (49-25) fell 2½ games behind New Orleans and San Antonio in the division race with only eight games remaining, hurting their chances of hosting a first-round playoff series.
Tracy McGrady scored 32 to lead Houston, but missed a jumper at the buzzer that would have won it. The Rockets have lost five of eight since a franchise-record 22-game winning streak.
"It's tough. You lose a game like this and you don't know what's going to happen," said Rockets coach Rick Adelman, who fell to 0-2 at Arco Arena since being let go by the Kings in 2006. "That is why it is tough for all the teams in the West. This was a brutal loss."
The Kings (34-40) surpassed last season's win total with the victory, the first time they have improved since going from 55 wins to 61 in 2001-02. That season under Adelman ended with a trip to the Western Conference finals. This will be the second straight season with no playoffs in Sacramento after Adelman left town.
"At this time if you're not in the playoffs, teams usually play relaxed," Artest said. "At least when teams come in here they have something to play for. That's the good thing about being in the Western Conference. We still can prepare for next year and take this game experience, especially for the young guys."
NUGGETS 126, SUNS 120, at Denver -- Carmelo Anthony grabbed two key rebounds and sank the last two of his 25 points at the line in the final 27 seconds, helping Denver beat Phoenix and move into eighth place, a half-game ahead of Golden State.
HORNETS 98, MAGIC 97, at Orlando, Fla. -- In a game where neither team led by more than three points in the fourth quarter, Peja Stojakovic hit a 3-pointer and three free throws in the final minute to lift New Orleans over Orlando.
76ERS 108, NETS 99, at East Rutherford, N.J. -- Lou Williams hit three consecutive baskets in the final 3:47, and surprising Philadelphia posted its 20th win in 27 games with a victory over fading New Jersey, loser of three consecutive games.
PISTONS 94, TIMBERWOLVES 90, at Minneapolis -- With stars Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton sitting this one out to rest up for the playoffs, rookie Rodney Stuckey scored a career-high 27 points to help Detroit overcome a 21-point deficit and beat Minnesota.
BUCKS 119, KNICKS 115 (OT), at Milwaukee -- Michael Redd finished with 36 points, and Milwaukee ended a four-game losing streak while pushing New York's skid to five games.
CELTICS 106, BULLS 92, at Chicago -- Ray Allen scored 22 points to help Boston move a step closer to the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over Chicago, the fourth victory in a row for the Celtics.
TIP-INS -- The New York Knicks will turn their basketball operations over to Donnie Walsh today. A person with knowledge of the decision spoke on condition of anonymity because the move has not been made official yet. ... Dallas upgraded the injury status of Dirk Nowitzki to day-to-day. The reigning MVP, who has been out since spraining his left ankle and knee March 23, will be re-evaluated today to see if he can play against the Warriors tonight. ... Dwyane Wade, the 2006 NBA finals MVP, and several other injured Heat players will work the phones at halftime of Miami's game against New Orleans, fielding calls from people looking to buy season tickets.
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