The Kings are in a tight battle for the best record in the Western Conference, as well as the Pacific Division crown.
Their lead for the top seed out West is just percentage points over Minnesota, and they are a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific. San Antonio is fourth in the West—1 1/2 games back.
Sacramento has six games remaining, more than any of its closest pursuers.
Now the Kings are just trying to find some cohesiveness as they head toward the postseason. They have gone 5-7 since star forward Chris Webber returned to action and are still without All-Star Brad Miller and Bobby Jackson, but are coming off Sunday’s critical 99-94 victory over Houston.
“I can’t tell you how big it was. We needed a win to jump-start our season,” Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. “We’ve been struggling so much, and with the injuries we’ve had, we needed to win today very badly. Everybody on our team has to step up and play at a different level now.”
The win ended a three-game trip through Texas, which included double-digit losses at San Antonio and Dallas.
“It’s a big difference to go home winning this game after two road losses,” Vlade Divac said. “Now everything is in our hands and if we finish strong, it is in our control.”
One thing that is not in the Kings’ control is injury issues. Miller may return for this game after sitting out the last three with bursitis in his right elbow. Jackson has been sidelined since late February with a strained abdomen, and his return is uncertain.
Injuries have also been hampering the Hornets.
Baron Davis, the team leader in scoring and assists, has missed the past four games with a sprained ankle. Jamal Mashburn has been out since March 7 with a severe bone bruise in his right knee and hopes to return for the playoffs, assuming New Orleans qualifies.
It appears the Hornets will, however. They have lost five of six to fall into a tie with Miami for fifth in the Eastern Conference. They are 5 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Cleveland, which has six games remaining.
“We’ve got five games to go. We’ve just got to try to get better, and I think we can,” New Orleans forward P.J. Brown said.
The Hornets have lost six in a row at Sacramento since Jan. 12, 1997.
STANDINGS (through April 4): Hornets - 4th place, 18 GB, Central Division. Kings - 1st place, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Hornets - Davis, 23 ppg and 7.6 apg; Magloire, 10.1 rpg. Kings - Stojakovic, 24.6 ppg; Miller, 10.4 rpg; Divac, 5.6 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Kings, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 18; Kings, 101-90. At New Orleans, Miller had 21 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists as Sacramento beat New Orleans for the ninth time in 11 meetings.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Hornets - 14-24 on the road; Kings - 32-6 at home.
INJURIES: Hornets - G Courtney Alexander (Achilles’); F Mashburn (knee); G Davis (ankle). Kings - G Jackson (abdominal); F Miller (elbow).