SACRAMENTO -- Ron Artest returned from a thumb injury to make four clutch three-point baskets in the fourth quarter, and the Sacramento Kings dealt a big blow to New Orleans' hopes for the top seeding 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 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.
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 sitting out three of four games because of a sprained right thumb and made all the key shots on the way to a 22-point night.
His back-to-back three-pointers early in the fourth quarter gave the Kings the lead for good. He put Sacramento up by seven with another long-range shot with 2:55 left, then made an off-balance shot from the corner that made it 91-85 with 51 seconds to play.
New Orleans got three free throws by Morris Peterson to cut it to four with 23 seconds left. After a five-second violation by Sacramento on the inbound pass, Peja Stojakovic made a three-pointer with 12 seconds left to make it 92-91.
John Salmons made two free throws to make it a three-point game and Stojakovic missed a three-pointer that would have tied the score.
Salmons had 18 points for the Kings, who will play a key role in the West race because they finish with games against San Antonio and the Lakers.
David West led New Orleans with 30 points and 15 rebounds. But star guard Chris Paul had another rough night, finishing with 14 points on four-for-13 shooting. He did have 12 assists but has made only 16 of 48 shots over the last four games.