Artest helps Kings

Jan 31, 2006 6:25 AM

The several months old Ron Artest saga finally played out last week with trade of the enigmatic Indiana Pacers star to Sacramento for three-point gunner Peja Stojakovic. Whether this will be the final chapter is debatable, but the trade seemingly helps both teams.

Sacramento is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Artest gives the Kings a solid offensive contributor and one of the league’s top defensive players. The Pacers replace basically an open roster spot with Artest on the inactive list much of the season. Although Stojakovic is a defensive liability, the Pacers are a fundamentally sound defensive team. They need some offensive punch, especiallywith Jermaine O’neal sidelined for up to two months.

Detroit sets the pace in the NBA. With Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pistons own the fourth best record ever at 37-5. They are on pace to tie Chicago’s all time record of 72-10. Sunday’s win was Detroit’s eleventh in a row and the Pistons remain the solid 2-1 favorite to capture the NBA Title. Their record is 10½ games better than Miami, the No. 2 team in the East.

However, we shouldn’t overlook the top two teams in the West, San Antonio and Dallas. Tied with 34-10 records the Spurs and Mavericks still have a shot at the best NBA record. The NBA season is a grind and Detroit might coast as the playoffs get near.

The race between Dallas and San Antonio is significant because the team that finishes second will be seeded fourth in the West, behind the winners of the other two Divisions.

With half a season still to be played, there are many stories remaining to unfold, including whether or not the Lakers can ride the scoring of Kobe Bryant to the playoffs. Currently seeded seventh in the West, the Lakers have climbed above .500.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Kings at Jazz (Fri): Sacramento hopes the addition of Ron Artest will propel a second half run that will end in a playoff berth. Despite the 18-26 record, the Kings are just 3½ games from the No. 8 seed. Utah has slumped of late in the Northwest. Sacramento should be improved defensively with Artest. The Jazz are solid defensively at home. UNDER.

Heat at Nets (Sat): The Nets are off a three-week stretch, having played 10 of 12 games on the road and winning just twice. The series is 1-1, with both contests played in Miami.There will be plenty of all star talent on display. Jersey enjoyed an extra day of rest and was 12-6 at the Meadowlands prior to Tuesday night’s game against Detroit. NETS.

Clips at Raptors (Sun): Toronto has a poor record, despite playing better the past six weeks. The Clippers continue to play well even with the absence of Corey Maggette. Elton Brand is having an MVP season, plus the addition of Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley provide leadership. Chris Bosh is improving for Toronto and rookie Charlie Villanueva is contributing nicely. Should be a fast paced game with lots of offense. OVER.

Last week: 1-2

Season: 15-23-1.