Kings top Hornets, wrap up eighth straight playoff trip
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ron Artest really did predict the future. The Sacramento Kings are headed to the playoffs, just as he guaranteed back in January — and now Artest won't be satisfied unless this unlikely trip lasts into the second round.
Mike Bibby hit five 3-pointers while scoring 23 points, and the Kings celebrated their eighth consecutive playoff berth with a 96-79 victory over the New Orleans Hornets yesterday.
Bonzi Wells scored 16 points in three quarters for the Kings, who got their eighth win in 10 games to surge into the postseason. Sacramento's playoff spot was clinched midway through the fourth quarter when ninth-place Utah lost 111-95 at Dallas, but the Kings still finished strong in their 10th straight win over the Hornets at Arco Arena since 1997.
Artest transformed the Kings' season when he arrived in a trade with Indiana for Peja Stojakovic, the last holdover from Sacramento's first playoff berth in the streak back in 1999. Bibby and coach Rick Adelman also deserve plenty of credit for Sacramento's surprising turnaround.
"It's gratifying to come from where we were, especially the last three weeks," Adelman said. "We got back into this thing, and that's a real accomplishment. On Jan. 30, we were behind about six teams that didn't make it. ... This is the fun part. It's a new season, and anything can happen."
Shortly after Artest arrived in town with a tarnished reputation and near-boundless energy from sitting out most of the last 1 1/2 seasons, he brashly guaranteed a playoff berth for his new 18-24 club. Then he led the Kings back from mediocrity with superb play on both ends, culminating in this last surge to the postseason.
Or maybe this isn't the culmination. Two weeks ago, Artest guaranteed the Kings would reach the second round — and though Artest makes predictions with all the caution of a boxing promoter, he insists he's serious.
"We're not finished," he said. "We've got a long season ahead of us. We're far from done. Our goal is to come out of this year No. 1, and win a championship."
Although this game loomed on the schedule for weeks as a potential playoff decider, Sacramento already squelched the Hornets' slim postseason hopes with a 100-82 victory at Denver on Saturday night.
The Kings (43-38), who have won 17 of their past 20 home games, can finish seventh in the West only if they beat Seattle tomorrow and the Hornets upset the Lakers (44-37) on Wednesday. If not, Sacramento likely will open the postseason in San Antonio against the defending NBA champions.
Sacramento never trailed after the opening minute, opening a 21-point lead in the second quarter with several steady surges.
Bibby scored 10 points in the third, and both clubs' reserves finished up most of the fourth.
Artest had 13 points, six rebounds and six assists while shooting more judiciously with his injured right thumb heavily wrapped.
SPURS 103, TIMBERWOLVES 90
MINNEAPOLIS — San Antonio moved closer to clinching first place in the Western Conference behind 57 points from its bench.
Tim Duncan had 10 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes for the Spurs (61-19), who need one more win or one more Dallas loss to seal the Southwest Division title and secure home-court advantage until the NBA Finals with the West's top seed.
WIZARDS 104, CAVALIERS 92
WASHINGTON — Gilbert Arenas scored 35 points, leading Washington past LeBron James and Cleveland to end a five-game losing streak and clinch consecutive postseason berths for the first time since 1988.
Antawn Jamison added 16 points and 11 rebounds for Washington, and Caron Butler added 21 points after being out for five games with a right thumb injury. Butler sparked Washington with constant energy at both ends, and his 3-pointer at the buzzer ending the third quarter put the hosts ahead 88-62.
PISTONS 103, KNICKS 97
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Richard Hamilton scored 28 points and Tayshaun Prince added 20 as Detroit set a franchise record for wins.
The Pistons (64-16) broke the mark of 63 wins set by the 1988-89 Bad Boys NBA champs, a team led by current Knicks president Isiah Thomas. The Knicks (22-58) need to win their final two games to avoid matching a franchise record for losses.
The Knicks were without coach Larry Brown because of a stomach ailment.
NETS 95, CELTICS 93
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Nenad Krstic scored 18 points to pace a balanced attack, Richard Jefferson added 15, and New Jersey held on to beat Boston.
The win was the 17th in the last 20 games for the surging Nets (49-31), who have already clinched the Atlantic Division title and the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs. Their first-round opponent has yet to be determined.
MAVERICKS 111, JAZZ 95
DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki scored 14 of his 22 points on free throws and Jerry Stackhouse added 20 points in his return to the sixth-man role, leading Dallas past Utah, and eliminating the Jazz from the postseason chase.
The Mavericks kept alive their faint hopes of earning the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. To get it, Dallas must win its finale Wednesday night at home against the Los Angeles Clippers, and the San Antonio Spurs must lose at home today to the Jazz and on the road Wednesday to Houston.
SUPERSONICS 114, CLIPPERS 98
LOS ANGELES — Ray Allen had 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and Seattle ruined the playoff-bound Clippers' final regular-season home game.
The Clippers' fourth loss in six games prevented them from tying Memphis for the fifth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and put them a game behind the Grizzlies.