SACRAMENTO, Calif. &
Uninspired defense had become the norm for the slumping Sacramento Kings in recent weeks.
Ron Artest helped solve that problem Thursday night, playing high intensity defense, and scoring 22 points, for the Kings in a 96-85 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Sacramento had allowed 100 or more points to 11 straight opponents and lost seven of those games, including discouraging defeats to Miami, Atlanta, Minnesota and the Clippers.
Following three days off after Sunday's victory over the Lakers, the Kings put the emphasis on defense and responded with a solid effort in forcing 20 turnovers and holding Portland to 38 percent shooting.
"The defense was as good as I've seen us play in a long time," Kings coach Reggie Theus said. "We had a couple of days to practice and concentrate on defense. It showed tonight. Defense had become a big concern for us."
It was Artest getting after it in two practice sessions this week and continuing that effort against the Blazers, who have dropped two of three this season to Sacramento. He had nine points and three steals to help the Kings take a 34-27 first quarter lead.
"I wanted to come out with energy and try to set the tone," said Artest, who had a season-high six steals. "This time of year you have to fight through fatigue, play hard, and see what happens."
Portland's playoff hopes are dimming. The Trail Blazers are 10th in the Western Conference and have little hope of catching either Golden State and Denver. Still, Portland has 34 wins &
two more than all of last season.
"I'm still going to go out Saturday (against Minnesota) and give it my best, I'm not going to say it's all over," said Portland guard Brandon Roy, who had 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Former San Antonio reserve Beno Udrih had 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Kings, who snapped a two-game losing streak at Arco Arena.
"Beno has grown quite a bit in his first time in a starting role," Theus said. "The last three or four weeks he's gotten very comfortable and confident."
Brad Miller had 14 points and seven rebounds, John Salmons scored 11 points and Mikki Moore added 10 for the Kings.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 20 points, Travis Outlaw had 13 points and Martell Webster added 10 for Portland.
After trailing by double figures for much of the game, the Blazers pulled to within 82-75 on a jumper by Aldridge with 7:08 left in the fourth. But the Kings responded with eight straight points, including Artest's 3-pointer that put Sacramento ahead 90-75 with 4:54 remaining.
"Right from the start we had no sharpness to ourselves at all," Portland coach Nate McMillen said. "We didn't defend and I think we started the game off with four turnovers. I'm lost with this one. I don't get this game"
The Kings managed to stay in control, even though leading scorer Kevin Martin was failing to convert from the perimeter and misfiring on his flashy drives to the basket. He missed 9 of 11 shots and finished with six points. Last week in a home loss to Minnesota, Martin scored a career-high 48 points.
"Everyone focused on Kevin and that opened up the court for all of us," Artest said.
Despite being outscored 19-14 in a sluggish third quarter, the Kings still took a 72-63 lead into the fourth.
The Blazers finished the five-game road trip 3-2.
Artest and Salmons combined for 11 points for the Kings, who used an 8-0 run to start the second quarter in building a 58-44 halftime advantage.
Greg Oden, the top pick in the 2007 draft, ran through a light practice for the first time all year on Wednesday. Yet to play a game following microfracture surgery on his right knee last summer, Oden won't play until next season. ... Blazers reserve F Channing Frye banked in a 3-pointer from near halfcourt to conclude the first quarter. ... Theus, complaining to referee Bennett Salvatore about a third quarter no-call on Martin. "You've got to protect the young fella."
Artest-led Kings turn back Roy, Blazers
SACRAMENTO, Calif. &