Jermaine O’Neal and Kenyon Martin are two of the NBA’s most explosive players when healthy. Unfortunately for the Indiana Pacers and the Denver Nuggets, respectively, neither O’Neal nor Martin seems to be able to stay on the court.
O’Neal, though, hopes to return from a three-game absence on Tuesday when the Pacers visit the struggling Nuggets, who will most likely be without Martin because of yet another knee injury.
O’Neal is expected to play after missing the last three games because of swelling in his left knee and lower leg. The injuries are nothing new for the six-time All-Star, who has missed 86 regular-season games in just over three seasons.
Surprisingly, the Pacers (6-8) have fared well without their leading scorer and rebounder from last season. After dropping seven of its last eight games with O’Neal in the lineup, Indiana won two of three without him. Those victories came against New Orleans and Dallas - two of the top teams in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets (9-5) hope for similar success if they’re without Martin, who strained his right knee in Denver’s 109-81 loss in Houston Saturday. Martin, who missed 106 games over the previous two seasons because of microfracture surgery on both knees, had an MRI on Monday that revealed only a bone bruise.
Martin’s is only the most recent in a string of injuries for Denver, which is also playing without point guard Chucky Atkins (groin), power forward Nene (thumb surgery) and backup center Steven Hunter (knee surgery).
Those injuries might have something to do with the Nuggets’ recent struggles. They’ve shot under 40.0 percent from the field in three straight games, including a season-low 35.4 percent Saturday. After shooting 50.3 percent as a team during a six-game win streak, Denver has dropped two of three while shooting 37.6 percent.
“Thirty-five percent shooting speaks for itself,” Allen Iverson said after Denver’s loss to the Rockets. “They jumped right on us and they had momentum early and throughout the game.”
Iverson is 9-for-30 (30.0 percent) in his last two games, while Carmelo Anthony is 26-for-65 (40.0) in his last three.
Iverson and Anthony, the highest-scoring pair of teammates in the league, hope to bounce back against the Pacers, losers of seven straight against the Nuggets since a 103-94 road victory on March 7, 2004. That skid includes a 113-106 loss at home on Nov. 10.
The Pacers, however, have made strides under offensive-minded coach Jim O’Brien. They’ve scored at least 100 points in six straight games for the first time since cracking the century mark in seven consecutive contests from Dec. 21, 1999-Jan. 6, 2000.
Despite the offensive surge, the Pacers lost 111-106 against Cleveland on Sunday. They erased a 14-point deficit in the third quarter, but couldn’t quiet Cavaliers star LeBron James, who recorded his second consecutive triple-double.
“We’re all very disappointed in that loss. I thought our guys really scrapped coming back and did a lot of positive things,” O’Brien said. “I told our guys I was very proud of the way we kept our focus. I thought we could play better than we were and we stepped up.”
The Pacers could get another lift from O’Neal, who’s averaging 19.8 points and 10.3 rebounds in 12 games against the Nuggets since joining the Pacers before the 2000-01 season.
Anthony, meanwhile, has topped 30 points in each of his last four games against the Pacers, averaging 33.8 in those contests.