for this game

Artest, Kings hand contending Rockets costly loss

Apr 2, 2008 - 6:17 AM By Tom Galland PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

SACRAMENTO, California (Ticker) -- Two visits to Arco Arena have resulted in losses this season for the Houston Rockets. With crucial playoff implications attached to this one, Tuesday's loss had to sting.

Ron Artest scored 30 points and Kevin Martin added 27 as the Sacramento Kings held off the Rockets, 99-98, in a nailbiter.

Tracy McGrady led all scorers with 32 points for Houston (49-25), which sits in sixth place in the Western Conference - 2 1/2 games behind the New Orleans Hornets (51-22) and San Antonio Spurs (52-23) for the conference's top spot.

Despite his stellar game, McGrady couldn't convert on a tough 20-foot jumper from the wing in the game's final seconds, sending a raucous Arco Arena crowd home happy.

"I told the guys we didn't want to call a timeout if we got a stop," said McGrady. "We didn't want to give them an opportunity to set their defense up. We got a good look, unfortunately, it didn't fall for us."

"He's a player that likes to pump-fake and jump into you," Martin said. "Shelden (Williams) and (Francisco) Garcia did a great job not jumping. That's great defense. It was a great game at the end."

Williams, the second-year forward acquired in the trade that sent Mike Bibby to Atlanta, was given extended minutes after Sacramento center Brad Miller was ejected with two technicals at the 7:21 mark of the third.

"I'm a competitor so I want to play, I've been that way all my life," Williams said. "When it came down to the end, we were in some tight situations. I think that's when we did a good job."

"Teams are coming in here, and they have something to play for," Artest said. "We're preparing for next year and get this game situation experience for the young guys, too. It's good for us."

Artest's turnover with eight seconds left gave the Rockets a chance, but McGrady's final shot rimmed out.

"At the end, I made the dumbest pass in the history of the NBA, but it's all right," said Artest, who collected five steals but also four turnovers.

Artest tried to lob a pass inside to Mikki Moore with about 10 seconds left, but threw it well beyond the 7-footer's reach.

"Before you ask, that is not the play we drew up - just so you know," Sacramento coach Reggie Theus said. "Not many times do you get beat 49-28 on the boards and (come) away with the win. I credit the win to our half-court defense."

In a game that featured five lead changes in the final three minutes alone, Artest's 3-pointer with 1:55 left gave Sacramento a 97-96 lead.

Two free throws by Luis Scola, who scored 20 points and was a perfect 10-of-10 from the line, put Houston back on top seconds later. But it would prove to be the last points for the Rockets.

Martin drove to the hoop and was fouled with 49 seconds left and converted both from the line for the final margin.

"You lose a game like this, and you do not know what is going to happen," said Rockets coach Rick Adelman. "That is why it is tough for all the teams in the West. This was a brutal loss."

McGrady scored 10 points in four-plus minutes to open the second half, helping the Rockets forge ahead.

Houston appeared to take control after Miller's ejection. Rafer Alston, who scored 16 on the night, converted three free throws that put Houston up six with 90 seconds left in the quarter.

But Moore converted two free throws for Sacramento, and Artest nailed a 3-pointer that bounced high off the glass and in, then followed with a jumper to put the Kings back on top, 77-76, entering the fourth quarter.

Neither team could wrestle control in a closely played first half. Sacramento scored the final five points, including Artest's jumper with one-tenth of a second remaining, to give the Kings a 49-46 lead at the break.

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