In his first game back at Conseco Fieldhouse since the Indiana Pacers traded him in the offseason, Toronto Raptors center Jermaine O’Neal could be in an all too familiar place: on the bench with an injury.
O’Neal is expected to miss his 10th straight game with a sore right knee Friday night when the Raptors visit the Pacers for the first time since the teams completed a six-player trade over the summer.
The six-time All-Star averaged 18.6 points and 9.6 rebounds during his eight-year tenure with Indiana. His role with the team diminished toward the end of his stay, however, largely due to leg injuries that limited his availability.
O’Neal played 44 games in 2004-05, 51 in 2005-06, 69 in 2006-07 and 42 last season—his last with the Pacers. Indiana dealt him to Toronto in July, giving the Raptors what they thought would be a dynamic frontcourt duo in O’Neal and All-Star forward Chris Bosh.
O’Neal is Toronto’s second-leading scorer with 14.0 points per game, but he’s already missed 12 games due to injury, including the last nine with a sore right knee. He’s day-to-day, but it’s unlikely he’ll be in the lineup to face his former club Friday.
The Raptors (16-24) could’ve used him Wednesday night, when they were outscored 44-26 in the paint and 34-27 in the fourth quarter of a 102-98 loss to Chicago. Andrea Bargnani scored a career-high 31 points and Bosh added 25 before having a potentially game-tying shot blocked with 5.9 seconds remaining.
“I made the mistake of picking my dribble up after he cut off the baseline,” Bosh said. “It’s not going to be the last time we’re in a situation like that, or I’m in a situation like that. You just learn from it and keep going.”
The Pacers (14-25) look like they’ve learned from their early struggles in close games. Indiana won for the first time in five overtime games Wednesday, topping Detroit 110-106.
“So many times, we had the game sealed, and we went into overtime and we ended up losing,” said forward Danny Granger, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds against the Pistons. “We’re on the other side of it this time.”
Indiana has lost 13 games by six points or fewer, but has already notched four wins by that same margin this month.
“For us to get a stop with 4 seconds left in regulation and then win in overtime really gets a big monkey off our back,” forward Troy Murphy said. “Hopefully, this gets us going a little bit.”
Point guard T.J. Ford, the centerpiece of Indiana’s acquisitions in the O’Neal trade, had 23 points, six rebounds and four assists in 28-plus minutes off the bench Wednesday. He was limited to four points and four assists in his first game against the Raptors, a 101-88 loss Dec. 10 in Toronto.
O’Neal had 10 points and nine rebounds in that game.
Ford’s offseason departure cleared the way for Jose Calderon to take over as the Raptors’ starting point guard, and Calderon has responded by averaging career highs of 12.9 points and 8.5 assists. However, he’s missed six of Toronto’s last seven games with a strained right hamstring and remains day-to-day.