Pacers 111, Bucks 78

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Another season, another division title for Rick Carlisle.

Ron Artest had 21 points and nine rebounds and the Indiana Pacers clinched the Central Division title with a 111-78 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.

Carlisle joined Pat Riley as the only coaches in NBA history to win a division title in each of their first three years coaching. Carlisle was tops in the division twice with Detroit before coming to Indiana this year.

“I’ve been lucky. I’ve had good players all three years,” Carlisle said. “It’s great fortune for me.”

More importantly to Carlisle, the NBA-leading Pacers (55-20) also secured homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs by beating the Bucks for the first time in four tries this season.

“This team has done something to this point that a lot of people probably believed wasn’t going to happen,” Carlisle said of the top seed in the East.

Still, the Pacers are eyeing something bigger—the best record in the NBA, which would give them homecourt in the NBA Finals.

“We’ve got a bigger goal to deal with and that’s trying to get the playoffs throughout,” Jermaine O’Neal said. “We want to make sure the entire playoffs come through here.”

The fact that all those accolades came with a win over the Bucks was that much sweeter for the Pacers.

Milwaukee had won four in a row over Indiana, including a 95-86 home win on Tuesday night. They did it by shooting well and playing physical defense.

Milwaukee did neither on Wednesday.

The Bucks shot just 37 percent and allowed the Pacers to shoot 56 percent in the blowout.

“We just didn’t come out and compete and play with a purpose, that’s probably the most disappointing,” Milwaukee coach Terry Porter said.

Seven Pacers scored in double figures. Jermaine O’Neal had 16 points and a career-high seven assists and Al Harrington added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Indiana wasted little time in its effort to send a message that the wins won’t come so easy for the Bucks if the two teams are to meet in the playoffs.

Artest scored 13 points and the Pacers shot 61 percent in the first quarter to jump out to a 30-13 lead.

“We wanted to make a stand,” Artest said. “It was a reminder that we’re not going to get swept. We’re not going to go down.”

Toni Kukoc scored all 15 of his points in the second quarter to help close the gap and the Bucks went into halftime down 50-37.

The lead grew to 35 in the fourth quarter, as the Pacers did whatever they wanted to on both ends of the floor.

“(Tuesday) night was one of our better defensive performances and (Wednesday) night was one of our poorest so we just have to be more consistent,” Desmond Mason said.

Milwaukee came into the game fourth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 97.2 points, a game but was completely shutdown by one of the best defensive teams in the league.

The Pacers also got a strong performance from point guard Kenny Anderson, starting in place of Jamaal Tinsley, who missed his second straight game with a viral sinus infection.

Making his first start since Dec. 23 at Houston, Anderson had 10 points and five assists in 21 minutes.

The dominating performance clearly humbled the Bucks, who are competing for the fourth seed in the East and a possible second-round matchup against Indiana.

“We’re definitely looking for a chance to get a little revenge,” Mason said. “Those guys just put it on us tonight, but we can’t look too farahead.”

Notes

Bucks F Keith Van Horn, who has averaged 17.9 points and 6.9 rebounds in 19 games since being traded to Milwaukee, missed his third straight contest with a left ankle sprain and left calf contusion. He hurt his leg against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night. Coach Terry Porter hopes to have Van Horn back by Friday. … Carlisle said he wasn’t sure when Tinsley would return to the lineup. “It’s more serious than we first thought,” he said. … O’Neal picked up a technical foul for arguing at 7:40 of the first. … Damon Jones got atechnical at 4:39 of the first.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Milwaukee
E. Strickland E. Strickland
3-9,  10 Pts
4 Rebs, 4 Assists
 Indiana
J. O'Neal J. O'Neal
5-10,  16 Pts
6 Rebs, 7 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists