O’Neal is playing some of his best ball since returning from his 15-game suspension, averaging 32.8 points in his last eight games.
On Friday, he had 29 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks to lead the Pacers to a 101-83 victory over the Suns, who are a league best 31-6.
After getting routed by the Suns 124-89 at Phoenix on Sunday, the Pacers got off to a much better start at home and finished with a 52-36 rebounding edge. Indiana got a lucky break as the Suns played much of the game without the league’s assists leader Steve Nash, who left early in the second quarter with a bruised left thigh and did not return.
It was a welcome sight for Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, who watched his team get off to poor starts in the last three games of their four-game road trip. The Pacers gave up 77 points in the first half of a loss to Dallas on Saturday, 65 to Phoenix on Sunday and then 57 in their win at Memphis on Wednesday.
“It was more than just playing good ‘D,”’ Carlisle said. “Our offense was better, more successful than it had been in some of those blowout games. When you play well at one end, it helps the other end.”
The Magic, meanwhile, have dropped two of three, including a 101-94 against the Detroit Pistons on Friday in Grant Hill’s first trip back to Detroit, where he spent the first six years of his career before forcing a trade to Orlando in 2000.
“I wasn’t sure I would ever get back here to play,” said Hill, who barely played in his first four seasons with the Magic because of injuries. “I was more nervous than I have been in 30-odd games this season. It was kind of hard to concentrate, not to make excuses, but it was weird. It was also probably the best feeling I’ve had after a loss.”