O’Neal is coming off the NBA’s best performance of season as he looks to lead the Pacers to a season-high fifth straight win when they visit the San Antonio Spurs.
The 6-foot-11 forward scored a career-high and NBA season-best 55 points to lead Indiana to a 116-99 victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday.
“What I’m happy about is we’ve won four in a row,” said O’Neal, who also had 11 rebounds. “I tip my hat off to my team. They put me in position, that’s what this team is all about.”
Jamaal Tinsley had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and Jeff Foster added 10 points and 10 rebounds to help Indiana improve to 4-1 since O’Neal’s suspension was reduced from 25 games to 15 for his part in the infamous Nov. 19 brawl in Detroit.
O’Neal’s total bested Allen Iverson’s 54 points on Dec. 18, also against the Bucks. In his five games back, O’Neal is averaging 29.4 points and 10.6 rebounds to help the Pacers recover from a rough 5-9 December that saw them lose seven straight during one stretch.
He shot 18-for-28 from the field and hit 19 of a team-record 25 free-throw attempts to narrowly miss George McGinnis’ franchise record of 58 points, set while the Pacers were in the ABA in 1972.
“It just was one of those wonderfully enchanting nights for our team and for him,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.
O’Neal and the Pacers will be tested over the next week as they open a tough four-game road trip that also features matchups with Dallas, Phoenix and Memphis. Indiana has won three of its last four road games after losing five straight.
The Spurs continued their defensive dominance Tuesday with a 100-83 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Defensive specialist Bruce Bowen scored a career-high 24 points and helped limit Kobe Bryant to just 17 as San Antonio won for the 10th time in 12 games.
“I know it’s a cliche, but it was just another game,” said Bowen, who is averaging 8.2 points this season. “If it was for the championship, then I’d be talking about how great it is.”
The Spurs, allowing a league-low 85.1 points per game, forced the Lakers to shoot just under 41 percent from the field (31-for-76)—including a 5-for-16 performance from Bryant, who scored at least 40 points in the Lakers’ three previous games before finishing 12 below his season average.
Tony Parker scored just two points in 29 minutes but handed out 10 assists.
The Spurs, an NBA-best 15-1 at home, continue a three-game homestand that concludes against Denver on Saturday.