PORTLAND, OREGON (TICKER) —Just about the only good news for the Indiana Pacers recently is that they are not the only Eastern Conference power that is struggling.
Luckily for Indiana, both Detroit and New Jersey have lost seven of eight as they vie for the top seed in the East. The Pistons have a one-half game lead over the Pacers and a one-game edge over the Nets, but just three games separate first place from sixth.
“We’ve just absolutely stunk it up the last few weeks,” Pacers forward Jermaine O’Neal said. “Maybe someone can draw a conclusion for us. We went through every scenario and we’ve just got to figure out a way - do we want to do this? Do we want to be sixth, seventh or eighth seed and go to someone else’s gym and play a Game Seven or buckle down and win the bulk of our remaining games and be a No. 1 seed?”
Portland led, 79-64, after a 3-pointer by Wallace with 10:47 remaining. Indiana climbed within 79-71 on a layup by Al Harrington with 5:39 to play, but after a timeout, Derek Anderson nailed a shot from the arc 20 seconds later and the Pacers got no closer.
Anderson scored 18 points and Dale Davis added 17 and 10 rebounds for the Blazers, who shot 50 percent (34-of-68) and limited the Pacers to 41 percent (33-of-80).
“Dale Davis has been great,” Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. “He got a lot of easy baskets tonight. We know what Dale can do and how important he is to this team. He runs the floor and rebounds the ball well. That is his game.”
Portland was manhandled at home by Philadelphia on Thursday, 88-60.
“We needed it in the worst way,” said Blazers forward Bonzi Wells, who scored 14 points. “Both teams are struggling. We were struggling and Indiana was struggling, but we needed it worse then they did. We got it done today. Rasheed played great, Dale played great and the whole team played great. It was a great team effort.”
“I thought it was a well-played game on our part, especially coming off the Philadelphia debacle,” Cheeks added. “We are just trying to get our team back into a rhythm. The defense won it for us. Once we got into that, we were able to run and get into the flow.”
O’Neal scored 25 points against his former team to pace Indiana, which has lost eight in a row on the road and is 0-3 on its four-game trip.
“We played hard all year, we’ve been the best all year at what we do, and all of a sudden we can’t beat anybody,” O’Neal said. “We’ve practiced extremely well and then the game time comes and as players, we don’t do our jobs.”
Temperamental forward Ron Artest was whistled for a flagrant foul on Wells 41 seconds into the second quarter. Because he has accumulated six flagrant foul points this season, Artest must sit out Sunday’s game at Sacramento.
“I think it was a foul,” Artest said. “I can’t really call it. It’s hard to call. But you can’t question the ref.”
Artest scored just seven points on 1-of-6 shooting before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
“We have to keep searching and keep trying to find ourseleves and play for the Indiana that’s across our chest and not necessarily be so self-absorbed in terms of what I’m doing wrong and what I’m doing right, but play for the team and play for Indiana,” Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said. “I think once we get back to thinking about Indiana and not self-absorption, we will be OK.”
Portland took the lead for good, 22-20, on a basket by Davis with three minutes left in the first quarter. The Blazers held a 30-24 edge after 12 minutes and extended it to 52-41 at the break and 74-62 after three quarters.
“I wish I had all the answers, but I don’t,” said Pacers guard Reggie Miller, who scored four points in 35 minutes. “We’ve got to get back to that level of play or it’s going to be a long second half of the season for us.”