On the one-year anniversary of his best game as a pro, Jermaine O’Neal likely won’t be doing much celebrating.
Though he has not been placed on the inactive list, O’Neal missed Monday’s game against Seattle and is yet to set a timetable for his return.
He was feeling much better last Jan. 4, when he scored a career-high 55 points in the Pacers’ 116-99 win over Milwaukee. O’Neal has led the Pacers in scoring every season since 2001-02, and is averaging 22.3 points and 10.0 rebounds this season.
The short-handed Pacers did fine without O’Neal on Monday. Also missing starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley, who has sat out the past two games with a torn biceps, Indiana got 26 points from Fred Jones and 20 from Sarunas Jasikevicius to snap a four-game skid with a 115-96 win over the Sonics.
Indiana hit seven 3-pointers and shot 66.7 percent (14-for-21) in the first quarter to take a 38-23 lead. Jasikevicius and Stephen Jackson, who finished with 22 points, combined for six of the Pacers’ 11 3s in the game.
“We were able to put the losses behind us and get off to a good start,” Jones said. “We knew they were a good first-quarter team, but we were able to jump out to the early lead.”
Jones has totaled 46 points in the last two games. He was averaging 7.2 points before those contests.
“I knew I had to put a lot more on my shoulders,” he said of the Pacers being short-handed. “I’ve gotten a lot more confident in my game, and I’ve been trying to take advantage of it.”
The Nuggets went into their six-game homestand looking to climb above the .500 mark, but lost three in a row before a 120-110 win over Boston on Monday.
Denver, which has lost 10 games it led in the fourth quarter this season, built a 23-point lead in the final period before allowing the Celtics to make it close.
Coach George Karl wasn’t pleased with his team’s continued inability to put opponents away.
“That was disappointing because I thought we needed a confidence-booster, a little bit of growth of maturity and mental toughness, and I didn’t think we did a very good job the last seven, eight minutes of the game,” he said.
Anthony has scored 20 or more points in 16 straight games since missing a Nov. 30 matchup against New Orleans with a sprained ankle. He has averaged 18.5 points in four career games against the Pacers.
Indiana is 15-4 against Denver since 1995-96, including 6-3 on the road.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 3): Pacers - 4th place, 8 1/2 GB, Central Division. Nuggets - 3rd place, 1 GB, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - O’Neal, 22.3 ppg and 10 rpg; Tinsley, 5.4 apg. Nuggets - Anthony, 24.7 ppg; Marcus Camby, 12.9 rpg; Miller, 8.7 apg.
2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Nuggets, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: March 3; Nuggets, 96-87. At Denver, Camby had 17 points, 22 rebounds and seven blocks, and Anthony scored a game-high 28 points as the Nuggets improved to 12-4 since Karl was hired.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pacers - 6-8 on the road; Nuggets - 10-7 at home.