Willie Cauley-Stein scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting and collected 11 rebounds as the host Sacramento Kings recorded a 96-83 victory over the NBA-best Houston Rockets on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.
Buddy Hield added 14 points and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Vince Carter scored 12 apiece as Sacramento completed its 12th consecutive losing season. Meanwhile, the setback was just the fourth in the past 35 games for Houston.
One night after the Rockets lost forward Luc Mbah a Moute to a dislocated shoulder, coach Mike D’Antoni held out his star backcourt of James Harden (ankle) and Chris Paul (rest) plus four other players.
Gerald Green led the depleted Houston roster with a season-high 31 points while making 7 of 17 3-point attempts. R.J. Hunter scored a career-best 19 points for the Rockets, who shot just 37.8 percent from the field and were 13 of 46 from 3-point range.
Harden finished the campaign as the NBA’s leading scorer with a 30.4 average.
The Rockets are the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs and face the eighth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round.
Houston also held out center Clint Capela (hand), forwards Trevor Ariza (leg) and Ryan Anderson (ankle), and guard Eric Gordon (ankle).
Carter was 5-of-8 shooting in 25 minutes. The 41-year-old said earlier Wednesday that he intends to return for a 21st NBA season.
The Kings, who shot 47.5 percent overall, shot a stellar 56.8 percent in the first half while taking a 52-44 lead into the break. Sacramento led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter.
Houston pulled within three early in the third quarter before the Kings rattled off nine straight to open up a 65-53 lead with 6:27 left in the period. Carter drained a 3-pointer to make it a 14-point margin with 1:06 remaining and Sacramento led 79-63 entering the final stanza.
Bogdanovic opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead to 22. The Kings were up 20 as the quarter neared the halfway point before Hunter scored eight points in a 58-second span to pull the Rockets within 90-78 with 5:19 left.
Houston was never able to move within single digits as Sacramento closed it out to end a seven-game losing streak in the series.
—Field Level Media