SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—Creeping up on the .500 mark for the first time since mid-November, the healthy Sacramento Kings must be wishing the season began two weeks ago.
Brad Miller had 22 points and 20 rebounds for the Kings, who at 22-24 are the closest they’ve been to .500 since 10 games into the season. The Kings own a 7-3 record since the return of injured Mike Bibby and Artest on Jan. 16 gave Sacramento a full squad for the first time all season. Sacramento has won 10 of 14 overall.
“We know all about it (getting close to the .500 mark). We need to keep winning games and get to the playoffs,” said Martin, who was his usual economical self, making eight of 12 shots and converting all eight free throws.
On Friday, the Kings raced out to a huge lead and were in control throughout during a victory over New Orleans, one of the NBA’s best teams.
It was more difficult one night later against the rested Bulls, who shot 75 percent in the opening quarter and led as late as five minutes left in the game. .
With the Kings ahead by two points, Artest drove past rookie Joakim Noah along the baseline and slammed home a dunk for a 103-99 lead with 37 seconds remaining.
“I was just trying to get it done,” Artest said. “He’s taller than me so I tried to drive to the basket and it was open.”
The Bulls, who have lost two straight and four of five, had just one field goal in the final 4:57 of the game and that came on Kirk Hinrich’s meaningless layup at the buzzer.
“We had chances down the stretch, we missed shots and a few things got away from us,” Chicago interim coach Jim Boylan said. “Any time you turn the ball over and give teams easy opportunities it is cause for concern.”
Ben Gordon scored 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter. Hinrich scored 18 points, Noah had 10 and Ben Wallace added nine points and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who have lost nine straight road games.
After missing the last five games with a sore right wrist, Gordon entered the game midway through the first quarter and hit four of five shots. He finished 10-of-19 from the field and made all 10 free throws.
“A couple of times we had him trapped in the corner and he just rose up and hit some tough shots. That’s what great scorers do,” John Salmons said.
Clinging to a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the Kings fell behind several times, the last when Gordon hit a 3-pointer for a 95-92 lead with 4:57 left.
But Sacramento rallied quickly with nine straight points, including a jumper from the baseline by Martin for a 98-95 lead at the 3:34 mark.
“We are coming up on 11 games of being together as a total unit and we seem to be finding a cohesive way to play,” Kings coach Reggie Theus said. “Even when you only shoot 38 percent and win, that’s really hard to do. Normally we don’t do that.”
It’s been quite a stretch for Miller, who secured a career-high 21 rebounds in a victory earlier in the week against the Nets and nearly matched that effort in outplaying Wallace.
Miller has averaged 22 points and 18.3 rebounds over the past three games. He added four assists, four steals and two blocks against the Bulls.
“Brad’s been playing great all year, but the last three games have been incredible for him,” Salmons said.
Although the Bulls were rejuvenated offensively with the return of Gordon and Joe Smith, they still played without second-leading scorer Luol Deng, who missed nine games in January with an Achilles’ tendon injury.
The Bulls have dropped nine straight games in Sacramento since the Michael Jordan-led team beat the Kings by 15 points on Nov. 23, 1997.
“We played good enough to win, but couldn’t get it done,” Hinrich said. “In the second half we just were not aggressive. We struggled to find baskets at the end of the game. All the losses have been frustrating.”
Martin scored 17 points and Artest had 16 for the Kings, who used a late 11-0 run to take a 63-60 lead into halftime.
Chicago shot 15-of-20 (75 percent) and led 33-31 after one quarter. Chris Paul and New Orleans teammate Jannero Pargo were watching the game from courtside seats one night after losing to the Kings. The Kings made 22 of 23 first-half free throws and finished 35-of-40. Bibby missed his first eight shots and scored four points.