Kings 100, Nuggets 82


DENVER (AP) – Mike Bibby scored 23 points and the Sacramento Kings inched closer to their eighth straight playoff berth with a 100-82 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Kenny Thomas added 18 points for Sacramento, which moved 11/2 games ahead of Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

A win in the Kings’ final two games or a loss by Utah, which has three games left, will secure the playoff spot for Sacramento.

Ruben Patterson scored 20 points to lead the Nuggets, who trailed the entire second half to the chagrin of an early departing crowd that had expected to see a playoff atmosphere with Denver clinging to slim hopes of earning home-court advantage in its playoff opener later this month.

Kenyon Martin (knee) and Marcus Camby (back) returned to the court for Denver, which wanted to celebrate its first division title in 18 years with its fans after clinching on the road earlier in the week. The Kings, however, relegated the revelry to a pre-game video highlight.

Once the game started, it was clear the Kings were the more focused team, out-hustling and out-muscling the Nuggets up and down the court.

Bibby scored 18 points as the Kings took a 52-45 halftime lead. Sacramento stretched it to 82-63 heading into the fourth quarter at the quieted Pepsi Center.

Any hopes the Nuggets and their fans had of a comeback vanished when it took Denver more than three minutes to score again and the Kings quickly stretched their lead to 25.

Carmelo Anthony was held to 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting and both Camby and Martin scored 10. Kevin Martin scored 16 off the bench for the Kings.

Kings forward Ron Artest played with extra padding on his injured right thumb after hurting it Tuesday night against Phoenix. A medical exam prior the team’s flight to Denver revealed an aggravation of an injury that wasn’t properly repaired during his college days at St. John’s.

Artest was just 3-of-13 from the floor and finished with seven points, 10 below his average with the Kings. But Sacramento improved to 24-14 since acquiring the former All-Star in a trade with Indiana on Jan. 26.

Notes: Martin has missed 25 games this season, but says he’ll be ready to be a big-time contributor in the playoffs, and coach George Karl agrees, although he’s not sure how crisp he’ll be on offense initially. “I think his defense will be fine,” Karl said. … The Kings won the season series 3-1.

AP-ES-04-15-06 2325EDT