O’Neal comes off his best game of the season and tries to help the Indiana Pacers maintain the NBA’s best record as they continue a five-game road trip against the Trail Blazers.
Portland selected O’Neal out of high school with the 17th overall pick in the 1996 draft. The 6-foot-11 O’Neal saw limited action in four seasons with the Blazers, but has flourished into one of the league’s best power forwards since the Pacers traded Dale Davis for him prior to the 2000-01 season.
Since the trade, O’Neal has averaged 17.8 points and 10.3 rebounds and been named to the All-NBA third team the last two seasons while Davis has averaged 7.9 and 7.8 rebounds.
Last season, O’Neal was the only player in the Eastern Conference to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Zach Randolph had been doing a good impression of O’Neal for the Blazers this season, averaging team highs of 20.7 points and 11.5 rebounds, but now has become the latest Portland player to run into trouble.
Randolph was charged Tuesday with driving under the influence after an officer said he smelled marijuana in the player’s car, police said. The Blazers did not take disciplinary action against Randolph, saying they would wait for results of tests taken by police.
“Certainly if it turns out that the tests are not what we’d like to see, then, as I said, there will be consequences,” team president Steve Patterson said.
While Portland may end up being without Randolph, Indiana could be missing Ron Artest for the second straight game. He sat out with back spasms Monday, but O’Neal had a season-high 32 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks in an 89-82 win at Phoenix.
It was the ninth win in 10 games for the Pacers, who had opened their road trip with a frustrating 99-77 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“This was probably the most important game of our season so far,” O’Neal said after Monday’s win. “Last night was probably the biggest game because it’s the Lakers and it’s in their gym. Even when we got behind tonight, we showed a lot of maturity. Maybe the last couple of years, we don’t win this game.”
Indiana, 8-1 away from home this season, continues the road trip at Seattle on Friday before closing it Sunday with a marquee matchup against the Sacramento Kings.
The Blazers snapped a two-game slide and improved to 8-2 at the Rose Garden with a 97-93 win over New Jersey on Friday.
Damon Stoudamire scored a season-high 28 points and Randolph added 26 as Portland improved to 1-1 on a four-game homestand.
STANDINGS (through Dec. 1): Pacers - 1st place, Central Division. Trail Blazers - 4th place (tied), 5 GB, Pacific Division.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Pacers - F Artest or Al Harrington, F O’Neal, C Jeff Foster, G Kenny Anderson, G Reggie Miller. Trail Blazers - F Rasheed Wallace, F Randolph or Bonzi Wells, C Davis, G Jeff McInnis, G Stoudamire.
TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - O’Neal, 20.2 ppg and 10.5 rpg; Anderson, 3.6 apg. Trail Blazers - Randolph, 20.7 ppg and 11.2 rpg; Stoudamire, 6.1 apg.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Trail Blazers, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: March 17; Blazers, 95-88. At Indianapolis, Arvydas Sabonis scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as the Blazers overcame a strong effort from O’Neal, who had 31 points and 12 rebounds.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pacers - 8-1 on the road; Trail Blazers - 8-2 at home.
INJURIES: Pacers - F Artest (back); G Jamaal Tinsley (back); F Jonathon Bender (knee); G Jamison Brewer (toe); F James Jones (hamstring). Trail Blazers - G Derek Anderson (back); F Travis Outlaw (knee); F Ruben Patterson (Achilles’).