The Indiana Pacers already played one game without their suspended All-Stars.
They better get used to it.
Forced to use a lineup to likely include only one player that was projected to be a starter, the Pacers begin what will be a very long stretch without Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal as they face the Boston Celtics.
Artest, O’Neal and fellow starter Stephen Jackson, the team’s top three scorers, were suspended indefinitely following their roles in Friday’s frightening brawl that involved the fans at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Due to those suspensions, as well as numerous injuries, Indiana was down to six available players on Saturday night and lost 86-83 to Orlando.
The next day the news got worse for the Pacers as their title hopes may have been completely dashed, with commissioner David Stern’s announcement that Artest would be suspended for the rest of the season, O’Neal for 25 games and Jackson for 30.
That trio was accounting for more than 62 points and 20 rebounds per game.
“I respect David Stern, but I don’t think that he has been fair with me in his situation,” Artest said in a statement released by the players’ union in which he also expressed his regrets.
An appeal has been filed, but since all appeals are heard by Stern, it seems unlikely the suspensions would be overturned.
“We have to make the point that there are boundaries in our games,” Stern said. “One of our boundaries, that have always been immutable, is the boundary that separate the fans from the court. Players cannot lose control and move into the stands.”
Indiana’s Anthony Johnson was suspended for five games and Reggie Miller for one, but both are on the injured list. The Pacers are also missing key reserves Jonathan Bender and Scot Pollard due to injuries.
The Pacers are hopeful one starter will return for this game. Point guard Jamaal Tinsley sat out Saturday’s loss with a sore wrist, but the team expects him to play Tuesday.
Indiana can put Artest, O’Neal and Jackson on the suspended list and sign players to take their place, but no moves have been made yet and it’s uncertain when those newcomers would join the team.
“We had guys who had never played as a unit in an NBA game,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said after Saturday’s loss. “I’m disappointed. We went out there to win the game, even given these unusual circumstances.”
Fred Jones scored a career-high 31 points and rookie David Harrison added 19 for an Indiana team which has gone from being a favorite to win the Eastern Conference to one that may struggle to make the playoffs.
“The league is making them into an example,” Pierce said after the suspensions were handed down. “Hopefully, the rest of us are watching and we’ll know better the next time.”
Now the Pacers face a Boston team coming off its most impressive victory of the season, beating Seattle 102-83 on Sunday to end the SuperSonics’ nine-game winning streak.
While Indiana is forced to make changes to its starting lineup, Boston may be making one permanently by choice.
Ricky Davis came off the bench for the first time this season Sunday, scoring 25 points in 29 minutes. He had averaged 11.8 points in his previous four games.
Jiri Welsch started in Davis’ place, contributing 12 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 21): Celtics - 1st place (tied), Atlantic Division. Pacers - 1st place (tied), Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Celtics - Pierce, 23.4 ppg and 7.6 rpg; Payton, 7.0 apg. Pacers - Artest, 24.6 ppg; O’Neal, 9.6 rpg; Tinsley, 8.3 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Pacers, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 5; Pacers, 100-94. At Boston, Artest scored 22 of his 28 points in the second half and O’Neal added 19 despite a sore foot as the Pacers beat the Celtics for the eighth straight time, including a four-game sweep in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Celtics - 1-1 on the road; Pacers - 3-2 at home.