Pacers 103, Bulls 84

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CHICAGO (AP)—Ron Artest taped up his sore left thumb and then showed his former team why he’s an All-Star for the first time.

Hustling, scrapping and hitting from inside and out, Artest scored 26 points Tuesday night as the Indiana Pacers routed the Chicago Bulls 103-84 for their NBA-best 39th win before the break.

“I could have rested the finger,” Artest said, noting that teammate Al Harrington was out with a bruised shin and Jonathan Bender had just returned from the injured list.

“Al wasn’t playing and I know J.B. could fill the spot, but he just got back and he’s got to get back in shape. And it was important we get No. 39 tonight,” Artest added.

Artest, traded from Chicago two years ago, hit 10 of 16 shots from the field and scored 18 of his points in the first half. Jermaine O’Neal added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Indiana, which does not play again before this weekend’s All-Star game.

Indiana, which lost to the Bulls at the United Center in December, led by as many as 29.

“It was nothing personal, just more about getting No. 39 and moving on,” Artest said. “It shows we didn’t have anywhere to go today. All we had to do was come here and win. … We weren’t thinking about the break.”

Chicago, coming off a 1-6 road trip, got a fifth straight game of 20 points or more from Eddy Curry, who finished with 23. Curry started strongly with 10 first-quarter points, but the Bulls couldn’t keep up their early flow and the boos came down from the crowd in the final minutes.

“I guess we were all looking for somebody to do something, somebody to step up,” Curry said. “I don’t understand what happened. It definitely shouldn’t have turned out the way it did.”

Artest shot 8-for-11 in the first half, Austin Croshere came off the bench for 10 second-quarter points and Reggie Miller hit two 3-pointers to spark a 13-4 run as the Pacers took a 50-38 halftime lead.

The Pacers then broke away from the sluggish Bulls with a quick 12-4 run to start the second half, pushing the lead to 20. Artest hit a buzzer-beating jumper to end the third quarter and put Indiana ahead 80-62.

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle will coach Artest and the East stars in Los Angeles on Sunday. He knew Artest was ready to go Tuesday night, despite the sore thumb.

“Ron came to play. I saw it in his eyes earlier. He was chomping at the bitto get out there,” Carlise said. “He really played well at both ends.”

Notes

Scottie Pippen has been limping most of the season and the career of the former Bulls star is winding down. Pippen strongly hinted to reporters on the Bulls’ recently completed seven-game road swing that he didn’t expect to play past this season. He signed a two-year deal to return to Chicago, but at 38 years old, the once famous sidekick to Michael Jordan has played in only 23 games this season, starting six, and had knee surgery in mid-December. He missed Tuesday night’s game. “It’s a crapshoot with Scottie nearly every day,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “Even if he doesn’t do anything one day, he may come in the next morning with swelling in his knee. That’s just the way it is when you’ve played 50,000 minutes or close to it. That’s a lot of minutes for anybody.” … Harrington did not dress because of a bruised shin. … The teams wore retro uniforms and the Bulls were donned in red, a rarity at home. … The Pacers were called for just two fouls in the first half. That’s thefewest ever in a half for a Bulls opponent.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Indiana
J. O'Neal J. O'Neal
6-17,  16 Pts
10 Rebs, 3 Assists
 Chicago
E. Curry E. Curry
10-17,  23 Pts
7 Rebs, 0 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists