The Sacramento Kings are finally healthy, and the results have been positive.
They’ll go for their fifth win in seven games when they visit the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
Sacramento finished last in the Pacific Division last season, ending its streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances and lowering expectations for 2007-08. Injuries to the Kings’ top three scorers from last season didn’t help either.
Point guard Mike Bibby missed the first 36 games after undergoing thumb surgery in October. Ron Artest missed seven games because of a suspension and nine more with an elbow injury, and Kevin Martin was sidelined 17 games because of a groin strain.
All three returned this week, however, and the early results have been favorable. The Kings (16-22) have won four of their last six, including victories over Southeast Division-leading Orlando, Western Conference powerhouse Dallas and Central Division-leading Detroit.
Martin, Artest and Bibby combined for 58 points off the bench in Friday night’s 100-93 road win over the Pistons.
“For us on the road, beating a team that has the second-best record in the league is a huge win for us,” first-year Kings coach Reggie Theus said.
Though the Kings have reason to be optimistic, Theus knows it will take time before everyone becomes familiar with his new system and a new rotation.
“It’s a confidence builder for our guys that are just getting back in the mix of things,” he said. “We’ve still got a little ways to go. Mike still has to learn some of the plays and we’ve got to get Ron back in the mix of stuff.”
Artest will be playing at Conseco Fieldhouse for just the second time since he demanded a trade from the Pacers in the middle of the 2005-06 season after a tumultuous four-year tenure with the club. He had 18 points but was just 6-for-22 from the field while getting booed throughout his first visit there - a 98-93 Sacramento loss on March 17, 2006.
“If there was a fight between the fans who loved me or booed me, I think the boos would have won,” he said after that game.
Artest missed the Kings’ visit to Indianapolis last season for personal reasons.
The Pacers (18-22) reached a season-high in points while erasing a 17-point second-half deficit in their 125-117 win over Golden State on Wednesday. Indiana outscored the Warriors 46-24 in the fourth quarter.
“To score 46 points in a quarter, especially in the decisive quarter, and to win the game - that’s probably one of our best quarters this year,” said Danny Granger, who led the Pacers with 29.
But while the Kings are finally healthy, the Pacers are dealing with new injuries. Point guard Jamaal Tinsley, averaging 13.4 points and ranking among league leaders with a career-high 8.5 assists per game, missed Wednesday’s game because of a sore left knee - the same injury that forced center Jermaine O’Neal out of the game late in the first quarter. Both are day-to-day.
Indiana had seven players score in double figures as it won the first meeting between these teams 111-105 last Saturday. Mike Dunleavy led the Pacers with 23 in that game, while Martin went 7-for-9 from the field and 10-for-10 from the free-throw line for 25 points in his first game back.