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Kings inch closer to playoffs with win over Nuggets

DENVER (AP) -- Give Ron Artest two thumbs up.

Artest's injured right thumb felt just fine after he left
Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets bruised and battered
Saturday night and put the Sacramento Kings on the verge of their
eighth straight trip to the playoffs.

Behind Artest's defensive play and Mike Bibby's 23 points, the
Kings routed the Nuggets 100-82 and moved 1½ 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 the Jazz, who have
three games left, will secure the playoff spot for Sacramento.

The Nuggets' loss means they will open the playoffs on the road
even though they've won the Northwest Division because they won't
have a better record than the sixth seed, whether it's the Clippers
or the Grizzlies.

Artest hurt his thumb Tuesday night against Phoenix, and a
medical exam before 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 had extra padding on his injured thumb and that affected
his shot -- he was 3-of-13 from the floor -- but he said he's just
not going to be as big of a scorer now and suggested his stifling
play on Anthony was just a taste of what's ahead.

"I figure I have to do something else now. Rebound, play
defense, get some assists," Artest said. "I'm going to take
shots, but they are going to fall in crunch time. They may not fall
as much as they used to, but they are going to fall, so I'm not
going to be shy about shooting."

Even though he needed extra padding on his aching thumb, Artest
throttled 'Melo so thoroughly that Nuggets coach George Karl
benched his star along with point guard Andre Miller in the fourth
quarter.

"I didn't think we had a chance to win with or without them,"
Karl said.

So, it was a matter of resting them for the playoffs or sending
a message?

"A little bit of both: resting them (and) earn your time on the
court by playing defense and playing hard," Karl said.

Anthony, the Western Conference's player of the month in March,
finished with 15 points, just over half his average. He never could
get anything going against Artest.

Artest finished with seven points, 10 below his average with the
Kings. But his defense on Anthony was plenty good enough and
Sacramento improved to 24-14 since acquiring the former All-Star in
a trade with Indiana on Jan. 26.

"If you don't execute and cut hard and make good decisions and
finish plays, you're not going to score against a great defender,"
Karl said. "I thought Carmelo was close to having a good game but
I thought we went to more of a jump-shooting and non-executing
offense and Artest is going to cover people.

"You're going to have to trick him a little bit. You're going
to have to open the court up and get some lucky baskets on him and
we never tried to do that."

After schooling Anthony, Artest said he longed to coach him,
too.

"I wish I had a chance to work with him. Hopefully one day I
can be a coach and coach a guy like Carmelo Anthony. He's got to
move a little more, pass to his teammates a little more, do more
without the ball," Artest said.

"If you're not scoring, do something else. I think I would tell
him that, but I don't want to give him too many of my tips! He got
frustrated a couple of times tonight when he got passed up, but
that happens sometimes, you are going to get passed up. You just
keep playing."

Ruben Patterson scored 20 points to lead the Nuggets, who got 10
points each from Kenyon Martin (knee) and Marcus Camby (back), both
returning from injuries.

The Nuggets wanted to celebrate their 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.

Karl saw it coming, too.

He said he started Patterson over Greg Buckner because, "I was
scared we were going to play without energy and I thought Ruben was
going to give us more energy. He did. He was one of few guys who
gave us some energy."

Game notes
The Kings won the season series 3-1. ... Martin said his
troublesome left knee held up well: "There were certain movements
that hurt me before that didn't hurt me tonight, so that's a good
thing. I can move around and bounce without pain."

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