Pacers 84, Raptors 64
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—The Indiana Pacers won’t rest until they end the season with the NBA’s best record.
The Pacers, an NBA-best 56-20, pulled most of their starters in the second half after building a 15-point advantage. Jermaine O’Neal played just 18 minutes as he continues to recover from a sprained left knee. He scored eight points.
“Jermaine O’Neal is having slight residual effects from the injury against Chicago, and the medical staff felt it was best to limit him to 24 minutes,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We talked about it before the game with the guys and said we need other players to step up.”
The Pacers led 45-33 at halftime, with Harrington and Jeff Foster helping them to 52-38 edge in rebounds. Foster finished with 13 rebounds and nine points.
“It’s certainly not hard to be focused and to come out and play hard to win every night,” said Artest, who was 8-of-8 from the line and had six assists. “We can’t worry about winning `X’ number of games and winning the conference. The coaches have told us to continue playing hard, and the records will take care of themselves.”
Jalen Rose led Toronto with 22 points on 10-of-22 shooting. The Raptors have lost six straight to fall well back in the race for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The firing of longtime general manager Glen Grunwald on Thursday has only added to the team’s frustrations, with many players fearing coach Kevin O’Neill could be next.
“If you ask them, every one them is assuming that I’m going to be fired after all the articles that have come out,” O’Neill said. “Unfortunately, it puts those guys in a tough position because they don’t really know or have a feeling for who they’re going to playing for in their minds.
“I don’t know what my situation is going to end up being. That’s something we’ll deal with at the end of the year. But the players are the ones I feel bad for.”
Toronto star Vince Carter scored 10 of his 21 points in the first quarter, but struggled from the field, making just eight of 19 shots.
“We brought nothing to the floor tonight,” Carter said. “The performance today, shots not falling—the energy and effort is not there. Everything has gone south right now.
“We’ve got seven games left, if I’m not mistaken, and it has to get done if we want to make it to our second season. We’ve got to turn it around.”
The Raptors scored nine of their first 16 points off turnovers to pull within six with 3:59 left in the first quarter, but got no closer than five the rest of the way thanks to the Pacers’ strong performance at the foul line.
Indiana made 23-for-26 free throws, while holding Toronto to 35 percent shooting and 1-for-7 from 3-point range in the second half. Indiana’s Kenny Anderson, who made his third straight start in place of Jamaal Tinsley, had eight points and four assists.
Tinsley did not dress for the game because of a viral sinus infection andmight not be available until early next week, Carlisle said.
O’Neill was an assistant to Carlisle in Detroit from 2001-03, helping the Pistons to back-to-back 50-win seasons and two division titles. Carlisle credits O’Neill, who faces an uncertain future since Grunwald’s firing, with much of that success. “No matter what happens, he’s a guy that’s going to be at the top of someone’s list,” Carlisle said. … The Pacers will keep F Jonathan Bender on the injured list for their game against Detroit on Sunday. He has a sprained right shoulder. “When Jonathan Bender is on the injured listmost of the time, you’ve got a pretty (darn) good team,” O’Neil said.