SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—With their three stars in the starting lineup together for the first time, the Sacramento Kings rolled to their most lopsided win in more than two years.
Ron Artest scored 27 points, Kevin Martin added 19 and Mike Bibby scored all 15 of his points in the first half to lead the finally healthy Kings to their season-best third straight victory, 128-94 over the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday night.
“We were hitting on all cylinders tonight,” Bibby said after his first home game of the season. “Everything was rolling for us. We got the layups, we got the rebounds, we outrebounded them, we were shooting the ball well. Everything went well for us.”
Sacramento had been playing short-handed since Bibby tore a ligament in his left thumb during the preseason. Bibby missed the first 36 games with that injury, Artest sat out 17 because of a suspension and injuries, and Martin also missed 17 with an injured groin.
The three played their first game together last Wednesday in Toronto and Bibby and Artest joined Martin back in the starting lineup for the first time against New Jersey. With the three high scorers playing together from the start, the Kings were able to spread out the floor and got many open looks.
Sacramento shot a season-best 57.5 percent, making 15 of 24 3-pointers and assisting on 30 of their 46 baskets in their highest scoring game of the season. The margin of victory was the biggest for Sacramento since beating Utah 119-83 on Nov. 15, 2005.
“This is the way we have to space the floor. This is the way we have to play,” coach Reggie Theus said. “When the guys are shooting the basketball like that you basically just open the floor up and let them play.”
The Kings never trailed and their lead never dropped below double-digits after the midway point in the second quarter and the Nets meekly went to their sixth straight defeat.
“Just a dismal performance,” New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank said. “It starts with containment on the ball. We couldn’t do that. We also couldn’t close out on their shooters. … We are simply playing very poorly.”
The Kings used a 15-3 run to build the lead to 29 points early in the fourth quarter and coasted to their ninth straight home win over the Nets. Sacramento improved to 3-1 since Bibby made his season debut last week, with the only loss coming in his first game against the Raptors.
The question remains if the resurgence has come too late. Sacramento (18-22) is in 11th place in the Western Conference and must decide in the next month whether to keep the team together for a possible playoff run or trade some of its stars before the Feb. 21 trading deadline.
“It won’t always be like that, but we just have to keep getting better,” said Francisco Garcia, who had 13 points off the bench. “Some games, we might not play the same because we’re not going to play the same as we did tonight but we want to see improvement. If we keep improving and keep playing with each other we could be one of the best teams in the league.”
New Jersey matched its longest losing streak of the season and has been completely overmatched in this latest skid, with three of the losses coming by more than 20 points. Vince Carter led the way for the Nets with 21 points, Richard Jefferson added 18.
“We gave up open shots and it is tough to win when it is that easy for them,” Carter said. “We have to continue to give effort and focus. It’s not that we are not giving effort. It is that we need to give more effort. Everything gets magnified when you’re losing and we need to change things.”
Bibby, Artest and Martin combined to score the Kings’ first 19 points, helping them take a 10-point lead just before the midway point of the opening quarter. The rest of the team followed suit as Sacramento made nine 3-pointers in the opening half to go up 64-47. Bibby’s third 3 of the half capped the scoring and gave him 15 points at the break.
Kings F John Salmons, who didn’t start for the first time since Dec. 7, left in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle and is day-to-day. … Brad Miller had a season-high eight assists to go with 14 points and seven rebounds. … Carter led New Jersey with eight assists, marking the first time since Dec. 15 that Jason Kidd hasn’t led the team in that category.