Washington 126, Sacramento 119

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec. 21 (AP) -- Even if Ron Artest hadn't taken himself out of the Kings' lineup with a curious knee problem, Sacramento probably couldn't have stopped the Washington Wizards' latest scoring outburst.

Antawn Jamison had 33 points and 13 rebounds, and Gilbert Arenas scored 30 points in the Wizards' fourth victory in five games, 126-119 over the spiraling Kings on Thursday night.

Caron Butler had 23 points and 10 rebounds for Washington, which overcame a halftime deficit with a spectacular 44-point third quarter.

That's nothing new for the Wizards, who outscored Sacramento 73-60 in the second half while playing only a tight seven-man rotation. Highlighted by Arenas' 60-point performance in an overtime win over the Lakers last weekend, the Wizards have scored at least 106 points in nine consecutive games, winning seven.

Yet Arenas credited their victory to their defense - which probably would surprise the sellout crowd that watched Washington destroy the Kings with sharp shooting.

``We just couldn't stop anybody in the first half,'' Arenas said. ``We didn't play any defense in that half, and in the second half we did. ... (Sacramento) is a great team, and they are still struggling. We just tried to take advantage of it, and that's what we came in and did.''

Jamison hit four 3-pointers and scored 17 points - most with a defender squarely in his face - in the third quarter alone as the Wizards made 16 of 22 shots. After Sacramento cut a 17-point deficit to six with 8 minutes to play, Jamison and Arenas scored 14 of Washington's 19 points down the stretch.

``Antawn Jamison got hot in the second half, and that was the main difference for us,'' coach Eddie Jordan said. ``If we move the basketball around, we have enough scorers that can balance the court and score. ... It was a very spirited halftime tonight, and we knew that our defense was important going into the third quarter.''

Meanwhile, the Kings didn't have their best defender - and nobody except Artest seemed to know quite why.

Artest participated in the pregame warmup before deciding he didn't feel strong enough to play - and then the mercurial forward watched the game from the training room with ice on his knees, rather than joining his team at courtside.

``It happens, (and) I've just got to be able to overcome it,'' said Artest, who also thinks he won't play Friday - even if the Kings manage to get to snowbound Denver on Friday morning. ``It's not an all-season thing. I guess it's just being older. I've got to take care of my body a little better.''

Artest, who mostly has been a model citizen since joining the Kings in January, hadn't publicly mentioned any previous knee problems. He was on Sacramento's 12-man list of active players before the game - which means he decided not to play less than 30 minutes before tipoff.

Coach Eric Musselman and Artest's teammates were conspicuously unclear about the reasons for his absence from the lineup, with Musselman referring all questions about his forward's status to a training staff that typically doesn't answer such queries.

``It was surprising to me,'' said Corliss Williamson, who scored 17 points for the Kings. ``Things happen, so you just deal with it. We had a game plan, and when things like that happen at the last minute, you have to adjust everything.''

The Kings lost for the ninth time in 11 games - including three straight home defeats - to drop four games below .500. Kevin Martin scored a career-high 40 points for Sacramento, and John Salmons matched his career high with 23 points while filling in for Artest.

Brad Miller had 19 points and nine rebounds for Sacramento, but Mike Bibby had another mediocre game, scoring 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

They might not be deep, but the Wizards can score: Arenas and Jamison hit five 3-pointers apiece, while Brendan Haywood had 12 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.

Jamison, who had several memorable games against Sacramento during his seasons with the Golden State Warriors, scored 11 straight points during one stretch while the Wizards took the lead in the third quarter.

Notes: Artest missed four games earlier in the season with a sore back. ... Wizards F Darius Songaila, who broke into the NBA with the Kings, is inactive with a herniated disc in his back. ... The Wizards finish up a four-game Western road trip in Phoenix on Friday night. ... The Wizards snapped a nine-year losing streak at Arco Arena with a victory over the Kings last season.


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