Detroit 91, Sacramento 74

AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Jan. 20 (AP) -- Ron Artest played imaginary catch with "friends'' in the stands, making gestures like he was tossing a ball underhanded in different directions before his first game at The Palace since the brawl.

The fans simply responded with boos and jeers.

That sure beat his last game in suburban Detroit, when he was hit by a thrown cup and responded by charging into the stands to spark an altercation with fans more than two years ago.

Richard Hamilton scored 19 points and Tayshaun Prince added 17 to lead the Pistons to a 91-74 win over Artest and the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night.

Artest had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists before sitting out most of the fourth quarter of the lopsided game that Sacramento never led.

"It was fine coming back,'' Artest said. "It was just another game.''

He was sentenced to one year of probation and 60 hours of community service after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault charges. Artest returned to Detroit last summer for community service, which he said fostered relationships with some people in the area.

"A couple friends that I met when I came to Detroit, said, `When you come into the game we're going to play catch,''' Artest said. "I couldn't really see them because they were all spread out.

"It felt like I had fans there, you know? I threw the ball and they threw it back.''

To prevent a repeat of the events of Nov. 19, 2004, involving Artest, the Indiana Pacers, the Pistons and their fans, a few arena security guards appeared to be assigned to be near Sacramento's bench in addition to the usual sight of a police officer, arena and team security.

Other than the boos almost every time Artest had the ball, fans teased him about his CD, Mohawk haircut and the black supportive sleeves that covered much of his left leg.

Artest insisted he didn't have any emotions about playing at The Palace and maintained he didn't pay attention to the jeering fans.

Did he consider the night the end of the brawl story?

"It's cool,'' he said.

Detroit point guard Chauncey Billups said he did not need Artest's return to give him closure.

"It's been over for a long time,'' he said. "Y'all try to keep it going because it's a good story, but it's been over with us.''

While Artest was reserved in his comments about coming back to the scene of the melee, he took a shot at the Pistons when asked about the addition of Chris Webber.

"They're not as good as they used to be,'' he said. "I can't really point it out. I remember playing against another type of team.''

The Pistons have won two straight, both with Webber in the starting lineup and scoring in double figures, after losing eight of 11. Webber had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

"He's fitting right in,'' Hamilton said. "He knows how to play the game.''

Corliss Williamson scored 17 points and Mike Bibby had 11 for the Kings, who have lost eight of nine.

Sacramento's Shareef Abdur-Rahim paused for several seconds before answering what the team could do to break out of the slump.

"We just have to keep pushing,'' he said.

Pistons reserve Antonio McDyess had 12 points, scoring in double figures for the third time in four games.

Detroit enjoyed a blowout after being pushed to overtime in two of the previous three games - winning at Minnesota and losing to the Timberwolves - and dropping the other game to Utah by a point.

The rout allowed starters such as Billups to play less than usual.

"It's definitely nice to be able to come out and put a team away,'' said Billups, who played 26 minutes. "We came out and took care of business early and got some rest.''

The Pistons started strong, scoring the first seven points and going on a 13-2 run late in the first quarter that set up a 22-12 lead in what was the lowest-scoring quarter against them this season.

Sacramento didn't pose a threat the rest of the game.

"We played like we were tired,'' Sacramento coach Eric Musselman said. "If you play tired, you're going to lose.''

Notes: Detroit C Nazr Mohammed, who the Pistons are trying to trade, entered the game in the fourth quarter after not playing the previous two games. ... Bibby had two assists, giving him 4,000 for his career.

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