Ron Artest has been the center of a lot of controversy over the last several years, and he started this season on the bench because of it.

Artest, though, has completed his seven-game suspension and will make his season debut Wednesday when the Sacramento Kings visit the winless Minnesota Timberwolves.

The NBA suspended Artest for seven games after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge stemming from a March 5 dispute with his wife. It was the latest in a string of incidents for Artest, who was also suspended for 73 games and the playoffs - the league's harshest punishment ever for a fight - for his role in the infamous brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills early in the 2004-05 season, while playing for Indiana.

Despite Artest's behavior, he's one of the most valuable players for the Kings (2-5), who have struggled early this season with several of their top offensive options sidelined. In addition to Artest, point guard Mike Bibby hasn't played this season because of a torn ligament in his left thumb. He underwent surgery in late October, and is expected to return sometime after mid-December.

On Monday, the Kings were also without Brad Miller because of a bruised right quadriceps. With three of its five projected starters sidelined, Sacramento fell 117-93 at Utah.

"I've said this before - we're not just playing for tonight," Sacramento coach Reggie Theus said. "We're playing for two weeks from now, a couple months from now when we get all of our horses back."

The Kings' only two wins this season have come against two of the league's three winless teams. They beat Seattle on Nov. 6 and Minnesota (0-5) on Saturday.

The Timberwolves are still searching for their first victory since beginning their rebuilding process by trading 10-time All-Star Kevin Garnett to Boston in the offseason. They have opened this season with their worst start since they lost their first six games in 1994-95 - the season before they drafted Garnett.

Minnesota had a one-point lead with four minutes left Saturday, but was outscored 12-4 the rest of the way to lose 100-93 at Sacramento.

"The ball simply bounced their way tonight. It seems like it has happened a lot to us lately," said Wolves coach Randy Wittman. "Through all of these games it has been about the little things that are not getting done."

Despite the early struggles, Wittman has been encouraged by the hustle from his young team. Al Jefferson, acquired in the Garnett deal, is averaging 19.6 points and 12.4 rebounds - both career highs.

"We fight. We play hard and we share the ball. I see positives despite everything," Wittman said after Saturday's defeat. "We didn't shoot very well, but we keep battling. We just have to find a way to score points to win the game."

The Timberwolves will look to rebound at home, where they've lost 10 in a row since beating Portland on March 25 of last season. It's their longest home skid since dropping 14 straight between the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons.

Artest averaged 18.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.8 steals in four games against Minnesota last season as the Kings and Wolves split the season series.


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