Artest, rumored to be on the trading block, provided a spark in his return to the Sacramento lineup, and Mike Bibby had 21 points and six assists in the Kings’ 101-76 victory over the hapless Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.
“Ron hustled,” said Martin, who last kept a meal down after Christmas breakfast. “He’s a hustle player.”
Artest played hard in 34 minutes after missing two games with sore knees—a health problem not everybody believed was legit. He hit the ground for loose balls, crashed the boards, pushed the ball and created opportunities for his teammates.
He had 10 points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot, leading the Kings to an important win in their first game in five days— and they did it with a season-low six turnovers. Sacramento earned a 101-96 victory at Denver on Dec. 22 after a difficult travel day getting to the game because of the storm in Colorado.
“Just stay with it,” Artest said. “When things are not going your way, you keep going and keep executing.”
Artest had little to say afterward when the topic turned to his happiness and his future.
He was stone-faced and silent when someone asked if he wanted to stay with the Kings, then he raised his eyes ever so slightly when questioned about whether the trade speculation affects him.
It was a good thing the Kings got Artest back considering the illness going around the team. Martin, who sat for most of the second quarter and the entire fourth period, finished with 18 points. Brad Miller scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth as Sacramento built on the 12-point lead it had after three.
“I thought Ron did a good job. He played a really solid overall game,” coach Eric Musselman said. “I was impressed with Kevin Martin. At first we didn’t know if he was even going to be able to play.”
Kenny Thomas’ one-handed putback dunk with 4:31 to go in the third made it 66-54, and Bibby hit a 3-pointer a minute later for a 69-55 cushion.
Andre Miller made his second straight start and third appearance for the 76ers, still trying to find their way since trading Allen Iverson to Denver on Dec. 19 in a swap that brought them Miller. Coach Maurice Cheeks is pleased with the progress of his new guard, who missed eight of his first 10 shots and wound up with 14 points on 5-for-19 shooting with five assists, a steal, a blocked shot and four turnovers.
“We’re used to playing with Allen,” forward Kyle Korver said. “We’re playing a much different style without him. We’re adjusting to it.”
Andre Iguodala added 15 points, Rodney Carney and Samuel Dalembert 12 apiece and Chris Webber grabbed seven rebounds and passed for six assists in his annual return to Arco Arena, where the fans still dearly love him and cheer him at every chance.
Webber, clearly disappointed by his diminished role, had four points in 26 minutes.
“That’s not a lot of time for me, and yesterday was 13,” he said. “I really don’t know what’s going on.”
The 76ers won both meetings last season against the Kings, who are 16-5 in the series at home during the Sacramento era. Philadelphia showed signs of being tired in the second game of its seven-game, 12-day road trip against the West that began Tuesday night at Golden State.
Both teams came out cold, each shooting 35 percent in the first period. The Sixers had seven first-quarter turnovers. Cheeks stressed to his team the importance of generating offensive opportunities early in the game on the heels of a 116-97 loss to the Warriors.
The Kings made only six field goals in the first but hit 10 of 21 shots in the second quarter on the way to a 45-32 halftime lead despite going 1-for-7 from 3-point range and being outrebounded by one.
Webber has been gone from Sacramento for nearly two years, but his friends still come calling for tickets each time he comes to town. The count this trip? “Thirty,” Webber said before the game, a pile of tickets in his lap. “It could be worse.” One fan hollered “Webber!” before the game and he received a loud standing ovation when introduced. “Thanks, C-Webb!” another yelled when he headed to the bench with 3:04 left. … Philadelphia, losers of 18 of 21, hasn’t reached 100 points in 13 straight games. The Sixers did not make a 3-pointer, the first time this season the Kings held an opponent without a 3. … A moment of silence was held before the game for President Gerald Ford, who died Tuesday night.