SACRAMENTO, March 24 (UPI) -- Steve Francis missed a potential game-winning 35-footer as time expired Sunday night as Houston lost a heartbreaker at Sacramento, 109-108.
The missed heave spoiled a huge night for Francis, who scored a game-high 38 points.
Francis nearly led his team all the way back from a 14-point deficit. The Rockets were out of timeouts and trailed by one point when they fouled Chris Webber with 5.1 seconds left.
The All-Star forward missed both free throws, and rookie Yao Ming got the ball into the hands of Francis, who dribbled quickly into the frontcourt, but had a bit more time to get closer to the basket or perhaps draw a foul
Instead, the All-Star guard pulled up for a long runner that bounced off the rim as time expired. The decision dumped the Rockets (36-33) into a tie with Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
"I'd take that shot in the flow in the game," Francis said. "It's a normal look that I get. I'd take that shot again. I thought it was good. I didn't have any doubt. I didn't want to take any chances of it having go to replay. Nothing went wrong with it, except that I missed it."
"I hope he doesn't make it because I could (have) iced it," said Webber, who had made his previous 13 free throws. "That is exactly what was going through my mind."
The shot by Francis may not have been necessary had his teammates made their foul shots. Of Houston's nine missed free throws, five came in the final eight minutes after it had sliced Sacramento's lead to single digits.
Houston Coach Rudy Tomjanovich missed a fourth straight game after doctors discovered a tumor on the lining of his bladder. He is expected to miss the rest of the five-game road trip, which the Rockets have started 1-3 and conclude Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Playing its third game in four nights, Sacramento posted its third straight win over teams likely headed to the playoffs. The Kings played a virtually flawless fourth quarter in Thursday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers, and did the same in the third quarter of Saturday's win at Portland.
Webber finished with 24 points, Mike Bibby added 23, and Peja Stojakovic 21 as the Kings (50-21) became the second team to 50 wins and pulled five games ahead of idle Portland in the Pacific Division.
Yao collected 11 and a career-high 19 rebounds, but was scoreless in the final period.