With their star forward back in the lineup, the Indiana Pacers are hoping to put even more distance between themselves and the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Artest returned to Indiana’s lineup Tuesday, helping the Pacers beat Golden State 96-88 for their fourth victory in five games.
Indiana, which is playing the second game of a four-game road trip, leads second-place New Jersey by 6 1/2 games in the Eastern Conference.
The 6-foot-7 Artest, who had 12 points and six rebounds, had thumb surgery Feb. 19 to repair a torn ligament on his non-shooting hand. There was a possibility he could miss the rest of the season, but he began working out after an examination Monday in New York and was cleared to play with a protective padding around the thumb.
“It’s amazing,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He had surgery 12 days ago and now he’s back. They don’t call him ‘True Warrior’ for nothing. He’s a unique guy. A unique competitor.”
Reggie Miller scored 21 points for Indiana, which is a league-best 15-6 against Western Conference opponents.
All-Star Jermaine O’Neal was ejected with 3:23 left in the game along with Golden State’s Cliff Robinson after two separate incidents on either end of the court.
The Clippers are coming off Tuesday’s 113-106 loss to the NBA-best Sacramento Kings, their fourth defeat in five games.
The Clippers are in 13th place in the Western Conference, 6 1/2 games behind eighth-place Denver for the final playoff spot.