Indiana (45-16) at Utah (31-30)

Cloudy Currently: Salt Lake City, UT
Temp: 41° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Fri Mar 5, 2004
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Ron Artest isn’t showing any ill effects from thumb surgery that sidelined him for nearly two weeks.

Artest looks to continue his strong return as the Pacers try to stay unbeaten on its four-game road trip in a matchup with the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center.

After undergoing surgery Feb. 19 to repair a ligament in his non-shooting hand and missing seven games, the 6-foot-7 forward returned to the lineup Tuesday and had 12 points and six rebounds in a 96-88 win over Golden State.

Artest put together an even better performance against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday with 25 points and five assists in a 101-94 overtime win.

“Ron kept us in the game and got us into overtime,” said veteran guard Reggie Miller, who hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 1:49 left in the extra period to help the Pacers pull away.

Artest, averaging 18 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists this season, began working out almost immediately after the surgery and was cleared to play Monday with a protective padding around the thumb.

“They don’t call him ‘True Warrior’ for nothing,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s a unique guy. A unique competitor.”

Jermaine O’Neal added 19 points and 17 rebounds Wednesday to help Indiana improve the league’s best road record to 21-10 and clinch a winning season on the road for the third time since the franchise moved from the ABA to the NBA.

The Pacers, who are 7 1/2 games ahead of New Jersey for first place in the East, close their road trip at Denver on Sunday.

The Jazz seek a season-high fifth straight victory after following Friday’s impressive 102-97 win at Sacramento with Monday’s 94-86 victory over Detroit at the Delta Center.

The latest win saw Gordon Giricek have his best game since coming to Utah in a Feb. 19 trade with Orlando, scoring 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Giricek made all four of his 3-point attempts after going 5-for-26 in February.

Monday’s victory moved Utah within two games of Denver for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and gives the Jazz five wins in six games after they dropped seven of nine.

“Anything can happen for this team when we play like that,” said Giricek.

Andrei Kirilenko, averaging more than 23 points a game since the All-Star break, struggled offensively but still had 11 points, eight rebounds, six blocks and four steals.

“Right now, we have a chance to catch the last train and go to the playoffs,” Kirilenko said.

The Jazz, who last won five straight in March 2003, are 21-10 at home this season but play six of their next nine games on the road. Utah is just 10-20 away from home despite winning three of its last four road contests.

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