Pacers 80, Trail Blazers 71

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Rick Carlisle, normally loathe to discuss milestones and records, couldn’t ignore the significance of winning 50 games in his first three seasons as a head coach.

“It’s hard to win 50,” Carlisle said. “It’s never easy. You have to give all the credit to the players.”

Ron Artest scored 21 points to lead the Indiana Pacers to an 80-71 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, making Carlisle the sixth coach to win at least 50 games in his first three seasons since the NBA expanded the schedule to 82 games in 1967.

Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Paul Westphal, Gregg Popovich and Rick Adelman are the other coaches to do it.

Reggie Miller added 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting for the Pacers, who overcame a big disparity at the free throw line to improve the NBA’s best record to 50-17.

Carlisle won exactly 50 games in each of his first two seasons coaching the Detroit Pistons before being replaced by Larry Brown last summer. He was hired by Pacers president Larry Bird in September and appears headed for much more than 50 wins this season.

The Pacers closed the game with a 10-0 run to put away a Portland team that had made a habit of beating the league’s best teams in recent weeks.

Artest hit a 3-pointer, Jermaine O’Neal added a jumper and Miller made another 3-pointer to give Indiana a 78-71 lead with 1:43 to play.

“They made the shots they had to make down the stretch of the game,” Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. “Their defense was great. That was it. That was the game.”

The Blazers, who beat Sacramento and Minnesota twice during their four-game win streak, went scoreless for the final five minutes and couldn’t take advantage of a 19-attempt discrepancy at the free throw line.

Portland was 19-for-25 from the line while Indiana was just 4-for-6, but the Blazers made just two field goals in the fourth quarter.

“Late in the game we didn’t get anything going to the rim,” Cheeks said. “We shot a lot of jump shots.”

The Pacers held a 43-42 lead at halftime despite Portland going 13-for-17 at the line while Indiana was 0-for-1.

“I let the officials know about that at halftime,” Carlisle said.

Zach Randolph led the Blazers with 16 points and Damon Stoudamire had 14, but the Blazers turned the ball over 20 times leading to 21 Indiana points.

Randolph had his way with the Pacers down low in the first half, but scored just four points in the final 24 minutes against the strong defense of Al Harrington.

“Our team defense in the second half swarmed,” Carlisle said. “We were able to keep (Randolph) from getting some good looks, and that’s the key to beating Portland.”

Harrington had 12 points and eight rebounds, O’Neal had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Jamaal Tinsley added five points and 12 assists for Indiana.

The victory over the Blazers, coupled with Sacramento’s loss to Washington, gives the Pacers an opportunity to widen their lead in the race for the league’s best record—and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs—when they face the Kings on Friday in Indiana.

The Pacers are 11-1 at home against Western Conference opponents, including seven consecutive wins.

“Right now we’re in a good position, but we take nothing for granted,” Carlisle said. “Winning 50 was certainly one of our goals, but we still have alot of work to do.”

Notes

Count Carlisle as one of Blazers PG Omar Cook’s fans. Cook had a good training camp with Indiana, but was cut before the season started. He signed with Portland on Feb. 26. “You knew it was getting close to being his time,” Carlisle said. “He’s in a good situation there.” … The Pacers held a halftime ceremony to honor players and cheerleaders from Milan High School’s1954 state championship team, which inspired the movie “Hoosiers.”

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Portland
Z. Randolph Z. Randolph
8-12,  16 Pts
6 Rebs, 0 Assists
 Indiana
R. Artest R. Artest
9-17,  21 Pts
5 Rebs, 4 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists