Pacers 85, Lakers 72

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—With four major stars missing from Monday night’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers, it didn’t figure to be a pretty contest.

It wasn’t, but the Pacers proved to be better without Jermaine O’Neal than the Lakers were minus Shaquille O’Neal.

Ron Artest had 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Al Harrington added 16 points to lead the Pacers to an 85-72 win over the Lakers on Monday night.

“It’s a quality win, Shaq or no Shaq,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.

Shaquille O’Neal was suspended for one game without pay by the NBA earlier Monday, one day after using obscene language and publicly criticizing officials during a television interview following the Lakers’ win over Toronto.

“When a guy like Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t play, you’re worried you won’t get up, but we were solid,” Carlisle said.

Jermaine O’Neal missed the game after straining his neck in Saturday’s win over Boston.

The Lakers were also without injured stars Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone. That, essentially, left Gary Payton to take on the team with the most wins in the NBA.

He wasn’t up to the task. Payton went 1-for-8 in the first half and the Lakers went 7:18 without a field goal in the second quarter to fall behind 41-26 at half.

Payton finished with 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting. Stanislav Medvedenko, who had 14 points, was the only other Laker in double figures.

“We missed too many shots, including myself,” Payton said.

The Pacers countered with four players in double figures, a balance that was too much for the Lakers to overcome.

Artest attempted a career-high 27 shots and Austin Croshere came up with eight big fourth-quarter points to help compensate for the loss of Jermaine O’Neal.

“Everybody here steps it up when somebody is out,” Artest said. “When you lose an offense like J.O., you don’t try to replace it, you just play aggressive and play the game the right way to win.”

During the morning shootaround, Los Angeles planned to take advantage of Jermaine O’Neal’s absence by going down low to Shaquille O’Neal early and often. But Lakers coach Phil Jackson found out late that his star center would not be available.

Without him, the Lakers turned in one of their worst offensive performances of the season. Their 72 points, 34.7 percent shooting and 26 first-half points were all easily season lows.

“There’s a reason why Indiana’s where they’re at,” Jackson said. “They contest shots and hit your arm on shots and the referees look by it. It’s all part of their defensive prowess. We weren’t ready for it. We should’ve been.”

With “rally towels” in hand, the sellout crowd came to Conseco Fieldhouse hoping to see a star-studded game between two of the best teams in the league.

Instead, they saw a game devoid of flow and laden with fouls and missed shots. The lackadaisical Pacers allowed the Lakers to hang around with some defensive breakdowns and stagnant offense in the second half.

“We competed, but we still need big fella,” Payton said of Shaquille O’Neal. “If he was here, it probably would’ve been a different story. We just have to keep playing and get through this stuff.”

The Pacers were just 7-for-15 from the free throw line and, despite their point totals, Artest and Harrington combined to shoot 16-for-45 from the field.

The Lakers used an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter to pull within 69-60, but Croshere hit a 3-pointer and Harrington’s jumper pushed the lead back to 76-62 with just under seven minutes to play.

“They hit some 3s, which is what we couldn’t do,” Jackson said.

Los Angeles never got any closer and Croshere, who scored 12 points and had nine rebounds, sealed the Pacers’ third straight win with a nifty reverselayup.

Notes

Lakers’ G Kareem Rush sprained his ankle, but Jackson said the injury wasn’t serious. … Pacers’ G Reggie Miller’s layup in the first quarter gave him 24,001 points for his career. … Jackson said F Rick Fox would have started against the Pacers were it not for Shaquille O’Neal’s suspension. … Pacers G Fred Jones got a technical for taunting in the second quarter afterdunking on Medvedenko and staring him down.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 LA Lakers
G. Payton G. Payton
4-17,  10 Pts
8 Rebs, 7 Assists
 Indiana
R. Artest R. Artest
9-27,  24 Pts
7 Rebs, 4 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists