After responding to O’Neal’s comments about the team with a victory in their last outing, the Pacers will try to build off that win when they host Atlanta on Tuesday.
Two nights after calling the Pacers (18-16) “a very average team,” O’Neal, the club’s leader in points (19.4) and rebounds (10.4), had 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting as Indiana avoided a third straight loss with a 100-93 win at New Orleans on Saturday.
O’Neal, who is averaging 23.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in his last four games, suggested he and the team could go “separate ways” after the season if he couldn’t help it contend for a title. Indiana has not won more than two in a row all season and is near the bottom of the Central Division.
“It’s too early,” O’Neal said. “We’ve had situations where we’ve looked extremely good and then we come back the next night and we look extremely bad. It’s too early to say we’re making huge steps. It was a baby step.
“We just need to put some wins (together) and finally get at least a three-game winning streak together to be considered making strides.”
Harrington, who was 10-for-12 from the field, is averaging 25.5 points in his last two games, well over his 16.4 season average. Jackson topped the 20-point mark for the first time since he scored 27 in a 100-90 win in the last meeting with Atlanta on Dec. 22.
“We have guys that can score, but at times when we are struggling scoring, I do want the ball. That is a fact,” O’Neal said. “But I have a lot of confidence in my teammates to be able to make plays.”
Shooting 43.4 percent from the field for the season, the Pacers shot 47.1 Saturday, their best performance since Dec. 20.
Indiana’s December win over Atlanta ended a four-game losing streak to the Hawks.
Atlanta (10-21) snapped an eight-game skid with an 86-74 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. The Hawks, who have won just three times in their last 15 games, are 5-12 on the road and have lost four straight away from home.
They allow 97.9 points per game, but gave up their fewest of the season against the Clippers.
“Our defense was solid from beginning to end,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “We put ourselves in position to win a basketball game thanks to our defense.”
Joe Johnson bounced back to score 27 points on 8-for-16 shooting, one night after he had 15—almost 11 below his season average of 25.7—in a 105-92 loss at Toronto. Johnson scored 31 points in the last game against Indiana.
Atlanta has won its last two visits to Conseco Fieldhouse after losing 10 consecutive times in Indianapolis.