The Pacers look to extend their winning streak to six games over the Jazz as the teams square off at the Delta Center.
Indiana has won five straight against Utah since Dec. 2, 2002, limiting the Jazz to an average of 83.2 points during that streak. The Pacers swept the two meetings last season despite Artest not playing due to his suspension for the brawl in Detroit.
Artest was back in the lineup Sunday after sitting out a game with a bruised right wrist, scoring 22 points in a 97-92 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. The eight-year veteran, who was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year two seasons ago, is averaging 21.2 points.
“Ron plays such good defense that people forget about his offense,” said Jermaine O’Neal, who tops Indiana with 21.3 points per game. “He posts up, he hits from outside, and he’s one of the better scorers in this league. So people should recognize that. We don’t just say, `Ron, go out and defend guys.’ Ron is a very capable scorer from all over the court.”
Artest wasn’t the only capable scorer on Sunday for the Pacers as they bounced back from a home loss to Atlanta.
“We couldn’t have won this game without the total team effort,” O’Neal said. “Austin was the catalyst, getting in there and hitting those big 3-point shots. There were multiple plays he made in the fourth quarter, and that’s what makes us a talented team.”
Sunday’s game was the opener of a five-game western road trip for the Pacers, who will also visit Phoenix, Portland and Seattle.
Utah had won two straight before falling 94-90 to the Golden State Warriors on Friday.
Rookie Deron Williams had a career-high 24 points and seven assists for Utah. Matt Harpring scored 21 points and Mehmet Okur had 15 rebounds for the Jazz, who were trying for their first three-game winning streak of the season.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 28): Pacers - 3rd place, 2 GB, Central Division. Jazz - 3rd place (tied), 2 GB, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - O’Neal, 21.3 ppg and 10.4 rpg; Tinsley, 6.2 apg. Jazz - Okur, 18.9 ppg and 8.9 rpg; Williams, 5.1 apg.
2004-2005 SEASON SERIES: Pacers, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: March, 16; Pacers, 103-84. At Indianapolis, Jackson scored 28 points and the Pacers hit 37 of 43 free throws to beat the Jazz.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pacers - 3-2 on the road; Jazz - 2-4 at home.