He’ll try to help his team avoid a third straight loss when the Kings open a five-game road trip with a matchup against the surging Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.
Artest was excused indefinitely from the Kings last week following his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence. He missed two games before being reinstated Saturday by Geoff Petrie, the team’s president of basketball operations.
After splitting the two games without the volatile forward, the Kings (28-34) welcomed Artest back on Sunday and he had 17 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists in Sacramento’s 113-101 loss to Denver.
“It felt great,” Artest said. “The introduction was good. I got the same amount of cheers. It felt like old times. It should be fine.”
What’s not fine are the Kings’ fading playoff chances. With Sunday’s loss, Sacramento failed to gain ground on the eighth-place Los Angeles Clippers, who lead the Kings by one game in the race for the final playoff spot. Denver, which is seventh, moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the Kings.
Sacramento, needing to make a push on this road trip, has won three of its last four away from home, despite a 10-20 road record this season.
“We have to play at a higher clip than we’ve played this whole year on the road,” Kings coach Eric Musselman said.
After losing nine straight to the Kings, the Cavaliers (38-25) have won two of the past three meetings, including a 108-98 victory in Sacramento on Jan. 9. Artest had just nine points on 4-for-14 shooting in that defeat.
Cleveland has lost five straight at home to the Kings, but the Cavaliers have been tough to beat at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland has won seven of its last eight at home and is 24-8 there this season.
The Cavs beat Indiana 99-88 on Sunday and have won five straight for the third time this season. LeBron James scored 26 points, his lowest total in 11 games, and Larry Hughes added 23 as Cleveland cruised to the victory.
“We just came in, took care of business and got it over with,” said James, who had averaged 34 points in his previous 10 games.
The Cavaliers had an 18-point halftime lead and were up by 23 in the fourth quarter before the Pacers made a late run. Cleveland has won 11 of 15 to take over the second spot in the Eastern Conference, just two games behind Central Division rival Detroit.
The Cavaliers are putting together another late-season winning streak, just like 2005-06, when they won nine in a row and 14 of their last 17 to notch a 50-win season.
“This is definitely the right time to win five in a row,” Hughes told the team’s official Web site. “It’s good to play some competition that we might be facing in the playoffs. We need to just keep adding on.”
James had 34 points in January’s victory over the Kings and has three 30-point games in his last four meetings with Sacramento.