The Kings finally beat an Eastern Conference team on their 29th try, getting 30 points from Kevin Martin in a 121-94 victory over the fading New York Knicks.
"From the standpoint of knowing that our guys have been battling all year, gone through what we've gone through, and regarding being in the Garden and the tradition here and the spirit that these guys played (with), it's a very good ballclub here we beat tonight," Sacramento coach Kenny Natt said. "To see these guys really step up to the challenge, coming in here at the end of a road trip, it's monumental."
Beno Udrih added 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Kings, who had lost five straight overall and were two games away from a winless season against the other conference. They put an emphatic end to both skids, racing out to a 15-0 lead and dealing a crushing blow to the Knicks' already faint playoff hopes.
Closing a five-game road trip, Sacramento took all the pressure off Sunday's home game against Philadelphia, which would have been its final chance to beat an East team. They acknowledged that was on their minds.
"Absolutely, that's what we said before the game when we were about to go out there," center Spencer Hawes said. "We said, 'We've got two more, so we better get this one and then try to go get the one on Sunday, too."' Nate Robinson scored 19 for the Knicks, who have lost three straight, including consecutive blowouts on their home floor after an encouraging road trip left them only two games out of the final playoff berth. They played without leading scorer Al Harrington (sore left Achilles'), but that hardly explains their inept start or inability to stop a team that shot a season-best 55.3 percent.
Coach Mike D'Antoni wondered if his players have hit a wall and laughed when asked if he could still envision a playoff push.
"We can't make a shot, we don't have legs to get by people and we don't have legs to stop anybody," he said. "Just nobody has any physical presence."
Hawes finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Jason Thompson had 18 points and 12 boards as the Kings had a huge 52-36 rebounding advantage over a Knicks team that started three guards - none of whom could make anything in the opening minutes.
The Knicks missed their first nine shots as Sacramento raced to a 15-0 lead. When D'Antoni finally called timeout more than 4 minutes in, the stat monitor listed his team's leading scorer as "14 tied at 0."
"We played together and we took advantage of their lack of effort," Martin said.
Lack of effort?
"Sometimes a team walks in and they have no energy and that's how they came out tonight, and we just took advantage of it."
David Lee broke the ice with a dunk with 7:16 remaining in the first quarter, and though they shot just 26 percent in the period, the Knicks trailed only 28-22 after Quentin Richardson's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Sacramento began to blow it open again midway through the second. A 10-2 spurt extended a five-point lead to 49-36, and the Kings went ahead 62-43 at the half after making 62 percent of their shots in the period. New York shot 29 percent in the first half.
Another 10-2 surge to open the third quarter gave the Kings a 72-45 bulge and put it away.
New York came in three games behind Chicago for the eighth and final playoff position in the East, and D'Antoni has previously said the Knicks needed to get to 37 wins to get that spot. But after falling to 28-40, they would need to win nine of their final 14, facing a schedule that includes eight road games, including visits to teams such as Orlando (twice), Utah and Denver.
Thirty-seven probably won't turn out to be enough, but that hardly matters. The Knicks don't look capable of getting there, anyway. Counting their 115-89 loss to New Jersey on Wednesday, they have dropped two in a row at Madison Square Garden by a total of 53 points.
Lee finished six points and three rebounds, with D'Antoni saying maybe his leg was bothering him. Larry Hughes scored only three on 1-for-8 shooting.
"I think it's physical, mental, everything," Richardson said. "It's hard. Right now we're fighting for playoff positioning and for us to play the way we are , it's very disheartening and disappointing."
Notes: Harrington hopes to play Saturday when the Knicks open a home-and-home series against the Magic. ... Sacramento reserve guard Bobby Jackson postponed the surgery he was scheduled to have Friday in California to repair a fractured left cheekbone. No date was set for it to be rescheduled. ... The Knicks will honor some of the greatest players in franchise history Monday at halftime of their game against Orlando. Carl Braun (1940s), Richie Guerin ('50s), Willis Reed ('60s), Walt Frazier ('70s), Bernard King ('80s) and Patrick Ewing ('90s), chosen by a panel for their impact in their respective decades, will be honored with "legends awards."
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