Sacramento 110, Indiana 93

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 25 (AP) -- Kevin Martin found the perfect cure for his offensive struggles - Indiana's suddenly porous defense.

Martin scored 35 points to help the Sacramento Kings beat the Indiana Pacers 110-93 without Ron Artest on Sunday night.

Artest was a no-show against his former team for personal reasons, a team spokesman said without elaborating. Indiana fans disliked Artest for his role in the brawl between Pacers players and Pistons fans two seasons ago and for his public trade request last season.

Thanks to Martin, the Kings didn't need him. Martin scored 27 points in the second half to help the Kings overcome a 50-47 halftime deficit. The scoring outburst came one game after Martin, Sacramento's leading scorer, was held to two points against New Jersey.

"I was in a rhythm and just trying to be aggressive and go with the flow out there,'' he said. "I didn't shoot the ball well the other night, so I just tried to stay with it tonight.''

Martin was 8-for-23 from the field, but made 18 of 23 free throws.

The Pacers, statistically one of the league's top defensive teams, have given up at least 110 points in three straight games.

"Defense is definitely an issue for us right now, in a big way,'' Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. "It's execution to a degree. You have to say the effort wasn't good enough.''

Mike Bibby added 28 points on 10-for-17 shooting for the Kings.

Jermaine O'Neal had 19 points, nine rebounds and six blocks, and Mike Dunleavy added 18 points and nine rebounds for the Pacers in their worst home loss of the season.

Sacramento had lost five of its previous six games, but the Kings held the Pacers to 38 percent shooting to improve to 8-20 on the road. The Kings, just outside of the top eight in the Western Conference standings, are hanging onto their playoff hopes.

"Every game is huge for us right now because we're chasing,'' center Brad Miller said. "Every time out, we're trying to gain spots and gain position.''

It was Indiana's second consecutive loss after three straight wins. The Pacers have lost to Seattle, Golden State, Denver and now Sacramento at home this month, all Western Conference teams with losing records.

"Yeah, the West is pretty good,'' Indiana center Troy Murphy said. "What do you want me to say?''

Sunday's loss left the normally accommodating and thoughtful O'Neal speechless.

"I'm not talking today, fellas,'' he said as he left the locker room. "I don't have any answers to give you guys.''

The score was tied at 61 in the third quarter when Martin drove down the middle of the lane and dunked on O'Neal. John Salmons stuffed Indiana guard Darrell Armstrong's shot, then Bibby made a 3-pointer at the other end to give the Kings a 66-61 lead with 5:15 left in the third quarter.

The Kings later went on a 13-0 run that included nine points by Martin to take an 84-69 lead. Martin scored 21 points in the third quarter and Bibby had 14 to help Sacramento take an 87-74 at the end of the period.

"I don't think we came out ready to play,'' Dunleavy said. "We just didn't stop people. The last three minutes of the third quarter, it seemed we didn't keep our guard up. We didn't make baskets. They got on a run, you look up and you're down 15 points.''

Sacramento extended its lead to 91-74 early in the fourth quarter, and never led by fewer than 10 points the rest of the way.

"I thought we played with a lot more energy and we also played loose,'' Martin said. "Good things are going to happen when you're playing loose.''

Notes: Salmons started in Artest's place and finished with six points and five assists. ... Artest scored 18 points in his return to Conseco Fieldhouse as a King last season, but shot 6-for-22 from the field, including 2-for-14 in the second half, in a 98-93 loss. ... Artest had scored 30 or more points in three of his last five games and is averaging 28 points per game since the All-Star break. ... The Pacers honored former Boston Celtics guard Dennis Johnson with a moment of silence. Johnson, who died last week, was a teammate of Pacers president Larry Bird.

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