Thanks in large part to their revitalized lineup, the Pacers will go for their season-high fourth straight victory when they visit the Detroit Pistons on Sunday.
Indiana (23-20) acquired Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy from Golden State on Jan. 17 in an eight-player deal that sent Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson to the Warriors. The Pacers lost their first game with the new acquisitions but have won three in a row since, including a 102-84 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday.
Dunleavy has started all four games since joining Indiana and Murphy has been in the starting lineup for the last three victories.
“We’re starting to play well together,” said O’Neal, who recorded 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds Saturday. “We have a fine mix of everything. If teams try to stack up on one thing, we come back with a different punch.”
The Raptors had no answer for Danny Granger, who scored 14 of his 18 points Saturday in the third quarter. He connected on 4 of 6 from 3-point range to help the Pacers go 11-for-22 from long range in the win.
Dunleavy added 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting while Murphy recorded eight points and 12 rebounds.
“Murphy gives them a different dimension,” Detroit coach Flip Saunders told the Pistons’ official Web site. “Dunleavy can be a great shooter. They’re maybe not as athletic as they were, but they’ve brought in guys who can really shoot the basketball.”
O’Neal didn’t need his new teammates to defeat the Pistons (24-17) twice earlier this season, averaging 25.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in those contests - well above his season averages of 19.2 points and 10.4 boards.
Darrell Armstrong’s free throw with 0.9 seconds left lifted Indiana to a 93-92 victory in Detroit on Dec. 29, which began a stretch of six losses in eight home games for the Pistons.
The most recent of those defeats came Friday, when Detroit was limited to 16 third-quarter points and couldn’t hold off the Washington Wizards, losing 99-96. Pistons leading scorer Richard Hamilton had 27 points, while Chauncey Billups scored 11 of his 17 in the final quarter and grabbed nine rebounds.
Detroit struggled to hit just 15 of 22 from the free-throw line, though, compared to 23 of 26 for the Wizards.
“You can’t shoot (68 percent) from the free throw line and win in these close games,” said Saunders, who will try again for his 500th career win Sunday.
Saunders’ team, which is just 2-6 in games decided by three points or less, saw its three-game overall winning streak snapped Friday. Center Chris Webber, signed by the Pistons on Jan. 16, averaged 15.3 points in his first three starts but was held to six points against the Wizards.
He is averaging 22.3 points in 28 career games versus the Pacers, but scored just seven points against them in a Nov. 7 loss while he was with Philadelphia.
The Pistons have gone 1-4 versus Central Division rivals this season, while Indiana is 6-3 against division opponents.