Kings move past Lakers into seventh in Western Conference

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Ron Artest is writing quite a juicy role for himself in the ever-evolving script of the West Coast's best basketball rivalry.

Artest scored 28 points while playing stellar defense on Kobe Bryant, and the revitalized Sacramento Kings rolled through the fourth quarter of their 13th straight home victory, 114-98 over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

Mike Bibby had 29 points and seven assists for the Kings

(33-31), who have won 14 of 18 to move past the Lakers (33-32) into

seventh place in the Western Conference.

From Bibby's foot-stomping 3-pointers to Bryant's icy

determination, this meeting had a good portion of the intensity and

excitement from the California rivals' biggest clashes of the past

seven years.

But it also had Artest, who dictated play on both ends of the

court in his latest revelatory performance for the Kings, who made

a decisive 14-3 run in the fourth quarter. He's clearly the next

main character in a story that's already featured Shaquille O'Neal,

Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Rick Fox, Jackie Christie's purse and

one memorable room-service cheeseburger.

"Ron gets us going," said Bibby, who hit three of his five

3-pointers in the fourth quarter. "You always get up to play the

Lakers, but Ron fighting Kobe for every bucket just makes it


In his final home game before his much-anticipated return to

Indiana on Friday, Artest hit three of his four 3-pointers and

scored 19 points in the first half. He played tireless defense

against Bryant, who still got 30 points -- but had to work

exceptionally hard for them.

Before Artest's first taste of the rivalry at Staples Center on

Feb. 23, he promised to shut down Bryant, who probably chuckled

before responding with 36 points in an easy Lakers win. But Artest

wasn't in game shape yet, and his tandem with Bonzi Wells gave

constant headaches to Bryant in the rematch.

"I went into this game trying not to take it too personal,"

Artest said. "Because I took the last game too personal, too

macho-macho. ... This boosts us up to a higher level, so it's

definitely good. It was good entertainment tonight."

They'll meet again on March 22 in Los Angeles -- but Artest will

be hard-pressed to play a more complete game than this effort.

"Sacramento has added a player in the mix that is everything

that they weren't when we played them in the playoffs," Bryant

said. "The guy plays defense first, and now Sacramento has become

much more aggressive on defense. I think Artest hurt us the most on

offense. He had some big shots for them."

Sacramento hasn't lost at Arco Arena since Jan. 8, and not even

Bryant could rally the disorganized Lakers in the fourth quarter.

Lamar Odom scored 24 points for Los Angeles, but the Kings' veteran

seven-man rotation handled every surge with a poise belying their

short time together.

"We've put ourselves in playoff position now, we're right

there," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "There are expectations,

and this is good, but there's no time to relax."

Brad Miller had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Kenny Thomas

added 14 points.

After a 2004-05 season of relative quiet while both clubs

struggled, this West Coast rivalry already has become intriguing

again -- even though Bryant, Bibby and both coaches are the only

major players remaining from the epic 2002 Western Conference

finals, won in seven games by the Lakers on the way to the NBA


Bryant, who scored 51 points in the Kings' thrilling overtime

win over the Lakers on Jan. 19, rebounded aggressively from a

dismal 8-of-29 performance in a loss to Seattle on Sunday. He was

just 31-of-91 in his last three games before going 12-for-28

against the Kings.

"I think our defense was confused at times," Lakers coach Phil

Jackson said. "There were some defensive lapses, and they have an

experienced team, which took advantage of some of our young kids."

Artest scored 13 points in less than 4 minutes to start the

second quarter, while Bryant missed six of his first seven shots.

Bryant finished the first half with just nine points on 4-of-12

shooting, but hit a difficult layin as time expired at halftime,

pulling Los Angeles within 54-50.

Game notes
Lakers G Aaron McKie has been cleared to practice for the

first time since tearing his left quadriceps tendon in early

December. McKie, who played just 10 games before the injury in his

first season with Los Angeles, put on his uniform for the first

time since getting hurt so he could participate in the pregame

shootaround. ... Lakers C Chris Mihm missed his first game since

spraining his right ankle against Seattle. He could be out for

several weeks. ... Bryant appeared to beat the third-quarter buzzer

with another layup, but the basket was erased when replays showed

the ball on his fingertips as the clock ran out.