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Wells leads way as Kings tie up series
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
May 1, 2006 - 1:51:00 AM

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Bonzi Wells has been booed in Portland and benched in Memphis, yet he got nothing but love as the Sacramento Kings gave a big postseason problem to the defending champions.

With chants of "Bonzi! Bonzi!" hitting one of the NBA's most-maligned players like 17,317 pats on the back, Wells scored the final big points in the Kings' 102-84 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night, evening up their first-round playoff series 2-2.

The series and the cheers are sweet redemption for Wells, who had 25 points and 17 rebounds in a dominant effort. But this series has been nothing but trouble for the Spurs, whose title defense has begun with no answers for Wells' relentless offense and Ron Artest's suffocating defense.

"Look where I came from, and how hard people have been on me over the years, and it just feels great to be a part of something special," Wells said. "We've got to go down there and steal one -- (but) we might not even call it a steal. We know that we can play with this team, and we can beat them."

Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in San Antonio, with Game 6 back at Arco Arena on Friday night.

Brad Miller scored 19 points and Mike Bibby added 16 as the eighth-seeded Kings rolled through the second half of their second straight home victory. Artest had 14 points despite early foul trouble, but his teammates again followed his aggressive lead for a blowout victory over the suddenly struggling Spurs, who won the first two games of the series at home.

"They beat us in about every facet of the game," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They were physical, aggressive, showed a lot of desire, and we didn't match it. ... Bonzi has been great. He's been a one-man wrecking crew."

The Kings won Game 3 on Kevin Martin's electric buzzer-beating layup, but this win left no doubt they can make the first round miserable for the champs with their new mentality. Artest arrived in a trade in late January and immediately transformed the Kings, who won 25 of their last 36 regular-season games with a defensive drive they lacked for years.

Tony Parker scored 22 points and Tim Duncan had 17 for the Spurs, who have been unable to slow Wells' canny game of rebounds, jump shots and drives to the hoop. They also haven't been able to get Manu Ginobili going. Artest's defense has limited the Argentine forward to 11 points in two games in Sacramento.

"This game was gratifying because we just took it right on through the 48 minutes," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "(Artest) is just so strong. He has such great hands, and we've done such a good job closing in on (Ginobili)."

The Kings are just the 12th No. 8 seed in league history to win even two games in a first-round series against a conference's top team. The NBA's first playoff round was best-of-five until 2003.

Sacramento still would need two more wins to become the third No. 8 seed to win a playoff series. Denver beat Seattle in 1994, and the New York Knicks upset Miami in 1999 -- both in five-game series.

The Spurs have plenty of reasons to be worried: They needed a lucky bounce on Brent Barry's tying 3-pointer to force overtime in their Game 2 victory. But although the Kings outplayed the Spurs for long stretches of the previous two games, they were a few seconds away from an 0-3 deficit before Martin made a twisting fast-break layup over Duncan as time expired in Sacramento's 94-93 victory in Game 3 Friday night.

With the latest sellout crowd seemingly still buzzing two nights later, the Kings took an 11-point lead into halftime of Game 4.

"Defensively, we weren't very good, and on top of that, those guys shot the ball very, very well," Duncan said. "Bonzi was incredible. Brad seemed to hit every shot that he had, and that really opened it up for them."

Still leading by 11, the Kings opened the fourth quarter with a 23-8 run behind Wells, the hard-nosed shooting guard who was basically kicked off Memphis' playoff roster last spring for clashing with coach Mike Fratello.

Wells, a free agent this summer after one season with the Kings, might be playing himself into a hefty new contract somewhere. After he swiped an offensive rebound, muscled in a layup and drew a foul with 8:55 to play, the crowd chanted his name as he put the Kings up 84-66.

Wells, who set his career playoff high in rebounds with the NBA's highest total this postseason, added a layup moments later for Sacramento's first 20-point lead and his eighth consecutive basket.

Notes: Artest picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds, but Martin scored 10 points in the first quarter and finished with 14. ... Popovich mildly tweaked his starting lineup before Game 4, replacing center Nazr Mohammed with Rasho Nesterovic, who started much of the first half of the season. Nesterovic made three baskets in the first 8 minutes -- but didn't score again. ... Artest missed his first four shots and didn't score until hitting a jumper midway through the second quarter. ... Martin has made all 23 of his free throws in the series.

Copyright 2007 - MOP Squad Sports

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