If there were ever a time for Ron Artest to step up, it’s now.
O’Neal, leading the Pacers with averages of 20.6 points and 10.2 rebounds, suffered a bone bruise to his left knee during Indiana’s 101-77 rout of the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. He collided with Bulls guard Ronald Dupree and had to be helped off the court and into the locker room with 8:21 left in the first half.
An MRI performed Tuesday on O’Neal’s knee revealed only the bruise and no structural damage, an encouraging sign considering how bad it looked at first Monday.
“It’s positive news, without question,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “The fact that there is a bruise means there’s some significant pain, so we’ll deal with it.”
The Pacers are 1-1 this season without O’Neal, who sat out a win over the Los Angeles Clippers in November with a sore knee and a loss to the Lakers last month with a neck strain.
Carlisle said Al Harrington would start in O’Neal’s place against the Mavericks.
Artest, second on the team with 17.9 points, needs to play better than he did in those contests for Indiana to overcome O’Neal’s absence. He shot just 12-for-37 from the field but did average 19 points.
Harrington averaged 19 points while subbing for O’Neal previously.
The Pacers have managed to play well while dealing with injuries all season long, something point guard Anthony Johnson doesn’t expect to see change if they are without their leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker.
“We have a very talented, deep roster,” Johnson said. “Whenever somebody’s been down, that’s given someone else a chance to step up and play well. Guys are taking great pride in that and I’m pretty sure someone’s going to fill the void (Wednesday) night.”
The rest of the Pacers did step up against the Bulls with Miller scoring a team-high 17 points and Artest and Harrington each adding 15 to help Indiana snap a two-game slide and win for the sixth time in the last seven home games.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting but got no help from the rest of Dallas’ starters, who combined to shoot 12-for-37 from the field for 31 points. Steve Nash scored 10 points, but had just three through the first 3 1/2 quarters.
“This was one that we were really hoping to get,” said assistant coach Donn Nelson, who took over when his father, Don, was ejected early in the second half for arguing a call. “They were playing like they had nothing to lose out there and we didn’t have the same aggressiveness.”