Kings 118, Nuggets 115

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The Sacramento Kings dealt a blow to the Denver Nuggets' playoff plans Saturday night with a surprising 118-115 win at the Pepsi Center.

Kevin Martin scored 36 points despite missing Sacramento's shootaround with the stomach flu.

The Kings, out of playoff contention and missing Ron Artest (thumb) and Brad Miller (leg), won their fourth straight game and snapped Denver's nine-game home winning streak. They took advantage of sloppy play and silly mistakes by the Nuggets, who got 47 points from Carmelo Anthony, two shy of his career high.

Instead of moving into a seventh-place tie with Dallas, Denver, which frittered away an early 12-point lead and trailed from the middle of the second quarter on, fell into a tie with idle Golden State for the eighth and final playoff spot in the wild Western Conference.

The Nuggets visit the Warriors on Thursday night.

Francisco Garcia added 29 points for Sacramento and Mikki Moore chipped in 23.

Artest was a late scratch with a strained left thumb, seemingly negating any advantage Sacramento might have had facing a Nuggets team without suspended power forward Kenyon Martin, who had to sit out after picking up his sixth flagrant foul of the season.

Despite playing poorly, the Nuggets had a chance on their final possession to send the game into overtime.

After a timeout with 4.3 seconds left, J.R. Smith inbounded the ball to Marcus Camby, who gave it back, but Smith's 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the front of the iron and high off the backboard.

The Nuggets had pulled to 116-113 on a pair of free throws by Anthony with 43 seconds remaining, but Eduardo Najera's basket with 34 seconds left was negated by a charging call when he knocked down Moore.

The Kings were unable to get a shot off and Denver got the ball back with 10 seconds left.

Anthony's dunk with 5 seconds remaining made it a one-point game, but Kevin Martin sank two free throws with 4.3 seconds left to restore the Kings' three-point lead.

Linas Kleiza started in place of Kenyon Martin and scored 28 points, 21 in the first 18 minutes, helping Denver take a 41-32 lead. The Nuggets looked as if they were going to cruise to an easy win even without K-Mart, by far their best player over the last 1 1/2 months.

It was the Kings, however, who went to the locker room with a 59-56 lead behind 17 first-half points from their own K-Mart.
Among Denver's dismal plays that had the crowd moaning was an errant windmill dunk attempt by Smith on a breakaway that hit the rim and bounced away.

Right after that the Kings started chipping away a double-digit deficit and the Nuggets never recovered.

The Kings took control for good with a 14-3 spurt, capped by two free throws from Moore that gave Sacramento an 87-76 lead in the closing seconds of the third quarter.

Martin's second suspension of the season didn't sit well with Nuggets coach George Karl, who told reporters earlier in the week: "I just think we get picked on. I think there's a harder core judgment to our guys than some other guys. Maybe we've earned that, I don't know."

Karl has taken issue with the league's discipline before. He was especially flustered by the league's suspension of three players for a total of 26 games following the Nuggets' brawl with the New York Knicks last season.

After a brutal two-week stretch of high-stress games against mostly playoff contenders, the Nuggets began a stretch of three games against lottery teams, and Karl acknowledged the challenge was to keep the intensity high no matter what lineup was on the floor.

"Someone's going to spoil someone's party and you're hoping it's someone else and not you," Karl said before tip-off. "You've got to be ready for the good teams and you've got to be ready for the teams that are capable on a given night."

And on this night, the Nuggets certainly weren't.