SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- After coming to Sacramento in a trade from Indiana last season, Ron Artest led the struggling Kings to a remarkable stretch drive and into the playoffs.
A day before the anniversary of the trade, Artest scored 36 points as Sacramento led from the start and beat the slumping Milwaukee Bucks 114-106 Wednesday night.
Bothered by nagging injuries and an unreliable shot, Artest has been inconsistent this year and so have the Kings, whose 17-23 record is nearly identical to what it was when he arrived in the deal for Peja Stojakovic last Jan. 25.
Artest says he is feeling better and has the statistics to back it up. He is averaging 21.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in January and is hoping his improved plays leads to another strong second half for the Kings.
"We had a similar record last year and hopefully we'll have another Cinderella run," said Artest, who scored 18 fourth quarter points and finished with five rebounds, three assists and three steals. "My legs feel better, my back is doing well, everything is coming along."
Sacramento won its second straight, one day after rallying from a 20-point deficit to beat New Jersey. The Kings, winners of three of their last four, begin a four-game road trip on Friday night against the Hornets in New Orleans.
Kevin Martin scored 18 points for the Kings, who led by as many as 16 points in the opening quarter. Brad Miller had 14 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, Kenny Thomas added 14 points and nine rebounds, and Mike Bibby had 11 points and eight assists.
The Bucks, losers of five straight and 10 of 11, were playing once again without injured starters Michael Redd, Charlie Villanueva and Mo Williams.
"You're supposed to win games like this, so you can't make a big deal about it," Artest said. "I'm sure we'll be ready for for the road (trip). Everyone is fed up with the losses and we know we need to turn things around."
The Bucks dropped to 1-8 without Redd -- the NBA's sixth-leading scorer -- and have fallen to last place in the Central Division. Redd scored 26 points and Villanueva had 25 in a November victory against the Kings.
Sacramento had difficulties containing crafty guard Earl Boykins, who made five 3-pointers and scored a career-high 36 points. Ruben Patterson had 21 points and 12 rebounds, Charlie Bell scored 18 and Ersan Illyasova had 13.
"The ultimate goal is to win basketball games and whenver you play well (and lose) it's an empty feeling," said Boykins, who made all five free throws and now has converted a career-high 30 straight. "Tonight we just didn't start the game in the right mind frame. We got down 10 points in the first quarter, which made it very difficult."
Scoring off steals, perimeter jumpers and muscling inside for baskets, Artest shot 15-for-23. His huge fourth quarter kept the Bucks from getting any closer than six points.
"He made big plays down the stretch," Bucks coach Terry Stotts said. "He's a tough minded player and he likes the ball in his hands at the end of the game."
It was a rare offensive output in the third quarter by Thomas that helped keep the Kings ahead. Scoring on easy opportunities inside against the Bucks shoddy defense, the veteran forward made all four shots and scored eight points in helping Sacramento take an 81-71 lead into the final period.
"I thought Kenny Thomas played his best game of the season tonight," Kings coach Eric Musselman said. "He rebounded the ball, did a great job finding open areas off our guys' penetration, and every shot he took was a quality shot."
Artest scored 16 points and Martin had 13 for the Kings, who had a 12-0 run late in the second quarter to take a 58-47 halftime lead.
Angered after being fouled from behind by Miller early in the third quarter, Patterson drew a technical when he quickly approached the Kings center after the play. ... Miller converted a rare 3-pointer in the second quarter, only his third of the season, but his second in the last two games. ... The Kings shot 15 of 22 in the first quarter and led 37-27. .. The Bucks are tied with Philadelphia for the most road games (26) this season. Milwaukee is 8-18.