Daily Confidential

Ron Artest didn't get much help on defense from his Sacramento Kings teammates in a first-round playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs last season.

He hasn't been getting much assistance lately, either.

After two subpar games on defense, the Kings (5-3) face the Spurs (7-2) on Sunday in these teams' first meeting since their postseason series.

Game 6 of that best-of-seven matchup saw Artest play through a sprained ankle in Sacramento's 105-83 loss, which allowed San Antonio to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he tried to take advantage of Artest's injury, which he believes hurt Sacramento's confidence. The Kings, though, struggled on defense all series, allowing 106.8 points per game.

Sacramento was among the league leaders in scoring defense this season, holding opponents to 90.5 points per game, until giving up more than 110 in each of its last two contests.

The Kings had a four-game winning streak snapped Thursday with a 117-105 loss to Golden State, allowing the opposition to shoot better than 50 percent for a second straight night. Sacramento beat Memphis 115-111 on Wednesday.

``We need to make sure we can defend as a team,'' said Artest, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds against the Warriors. ``I can't stop all the people on my own.''

Artest had four more steals Thursday and leads the league with 3.4 per game.

The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year is averaging 17.4 points this season, but has struggled in eight regular-season games against the Spurs. San Antonio is the only team against which Artest does not have a double-figure scoring average, posting 7.3 points per game and shooting 31 percent from the field.

Artest, though, did average 17.4 points and 1.6 steals in last season's playoff series.

The Kings committed 19 turnovers on Thursday and have been among the most turnover-prone teams in the league with 18.9 per contest.

Their scoring output had improved in every game this season before finally dropping off Thursday, when the team went 1-of-17 from 3-point range. Sacramento had been shooting 31 percent from beyond the arc.

Kings swingman John Salmons, a valuable bench player who has missed the last two games with a right thigh contusion, has been moving well in practice. Salmons said he's hoping to play Sunday, according to The Sacramento Bee.

While Sacramento has won all four of its home games, San Antonio is the NBA's only team without a road loss at 4-0.

The Spurs have won six of seven overall, including a 100-83 home win over Chicago on Friday behind Tim Duncan's 21 points and 11 rebounds.

It was the third time the Spurs have held an opponent under 90 points. They rank among the league leaders in scoring defense at 91.7 points per game.

San Antonio shot 51 percent from the field, but committed a season-high 24 turnovers. The Spurs have averaged 19 turnovers in their last four games, nearly six more than the team's average through its first five games.

``We've got to do a better job of taking care of the ball,'' Spurs forward Bruce Bowen said. ``There's nothing you can say or do about that except execute.''

Still, San Antonio had a season-best 30 assists Friday, including a career-high nine from reserve Beno Udrih and eight from Tony Parker.

``Well, the thing is we understand when the ball moves guys are getting wide open shots,'' Bowen said. ``We don't do a good job of it at times but as we continue to do it, it gets contagious and everybody is looking for the next open guy. We understand how to play the game, but sometimes we have little lapses.''

Duncan leads the Spurs with 21.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. He is averaging 24.4 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 33 games against Sacramento.

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