Miller had 20 points and 10 rebounds in his first game back from injury, and the Kings kept their precarious perch atop the Western Conference with a 105-91 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night.
Peja Stojakovic scored 26 points and Chris Webber had 24 for the Kings, who still can’t find the poise and chemistry they’ve lost since Webber’s return from a knee injury. They nearly blew this one by allowing a 26-point lead to dwindle to four, but Miller’s hard work and Doug Christie’s timely baskets saved them.
“I think we got back a little bit of our swagger tonight,” said Miller, who had missed the last three games with bursitis. “We’re getting closer to where we want to be, and if we get everybody back healthy, I think we’ll start winning a few blowouts, instead of these crazy games.”
Playing without their top three scorers, the undermanned Hornets chopped the lead to 81-77 before Christie started a 9-0 rally with a 3-pointer and a dunk. Christie scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“I think we realized the importance of this game, because we really can’t afford to lose probably more than one more game,” Christie said. “We always played hard, but we did made too many mistakes at times. We’re getting close to that playoff focus, though.”
The Kings (54-23) moved a half-game ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves (54-24), who visit Sacramento on Thursday. With the Lakers’ loss to Portland, Sacramento also jumped 1 1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles in the quest for the Kings’ third straight Pacific Division title.
All-Star Jamaal Magloire had 20 points, 13 rebounds and eight turnovers before fouling out for the injury-plagued Hornets, who clinched a playoff berth despite losing for the 12th time in 13 road games. New Orleans made a season-high 24 turnovers but still came close to the franchise’s first win in Sacramento since Jan. 12, 1997.
“I thought we made them look better defensively than they really are,” said P.J. Brown, who had six points on 1-of-7 shooting. “We made a lot of unforced errors in that first half. We need to turn on the switch and get into playoff mode.”
With Baron Davis, David Wesley, Jamal Mashburn and Courtney Alexander watching in street clothes, New Orleans (38-40) finished a five-game West Coast road trip by dropping into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind Miami.
The Hornets also fell two games below .500 for the first time this season, but Cleveland’s loss to Toronto put them back in the postseason.
“We were turning the ball over way too much, and they jumped on us,” said Darrell Armstrong, who had 21 points and eight rebounds. “In the second half, we stopped the turnovers and got ourselves back in the game—and then we got sloppy again.”
Armstrong hit four 3-pointers while starting in Davis’ place.
The Kings haven’t been themselves since Webber returned and top reserve Bobby Jackson went on the injured list with an abdominal injury in early March. Their struggles reached a peak last week when the Kings lost four of five games and briefly fell out of first place in the Pacific Division.
“We’re starting to come along,” Webber said. “The knee feels great. It’s starting to feel healthy and respond well, and that’s progress. I’m feeling better all the time out there.”
Though Jackson missed his 23rd straight game, he could return at any time— and the Kings will have no shortage of motivation for their next two home gamesagainst Minnesota and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Hornets had three assists and 17 turnovers in the first half. … Kings coach Rick Adelman got his 300th victory in Sacramento. … Vicente Escobedo, the lightweight representative on the U.S. Olympic boxing team, attended the game in a Kings jersey. Escobedo is from nearby Woodland, Calif…. Vlade Divac played just 12 minutes and didn’t score.