Until Saturday night.
The 76ers, playing their fourth game in five days, handed the Indiana Pacers a 111-109 loss and gave Philadelphia coach Maurice Cheeks his first win with the team.
The Pacers were unbeaten and are among the favorites to contend for the Eastern Conference title. The 76ers were coming off a 20-point loss to Detroit and a 17-point home loss to Charlotte.
Chris Webber said the team was happy to get a win for Cheeks, who played for the 76ers.
“It felt good to get coach Cheeks his first win because he’s proud to be a 76er and that makes me proud to be a 76er,” said Webber, who had 25 points and nine rebounds.
Allen Iverson led Philadelphia (1-3) with 29 points and 12 assists.
Jermaine O’Neal led Indiana (2-1) with 23 points and 15 rebounds.
Philadelphia ruined Ron Artest’s first regular-season home game since last November. He was suspended for 73 games and the playoffs last season after going into the stands Nov. 19 and fighting with Pistons fans in Auburn Hills, Mich. He finished with 15 points and six rebounds.
The 76ers nearly blew a 20-point lead. Indiana had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley missed 3-pointers, and Webber made two free throws on the other end with 1.8 seconds left to seal the win.
Tinsley finished with 21 points and six assists. Jackson scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, making three 3-pointers.
“This was a heck of a win for us,” Cheeks said. “We had to grind it out in the end, and they made some spectacular 3-point shots, but we were able to hold on.”
Kyle Korver, who had 15 points and a career-high nine assists for the 76ers, said Cheeks motivated the team before the game.
“Coach challenged us,” he said. “He didn’t yell, he didn’t curse or anything like that. He just laid it on the line for us and told us we need to meet the challenge.”
The Pacers were grasping for answers after starting the season with wins at Orlando and Miami. Tinsley said the loss takes some luster off the impressive start.
“We waited too late to play,” Tinsley said. “Can’t wait until the fourth quarter then hope to play catch-up and win. Coming here and laying an egg took enough away from it.”
Artest might have tried to do too much in his long-awaited return to Conseco Fieldhouse. The Pacers made their first 20 free-throw attempts, but Artest missed one in the final minute with the Pacers trailing 108-105. He also had a turnover on a drive to the hoop with the Pacers trailing 106-102, and Webber scored at the other end to increase Philadelphia’s lead to four with 1:45 left.
Iverson entered the game third in the league with 31.7 points per game despite shooting 39 percent from the field. He made 11 of 29 shots against the Pacers.
“My teammates did a great job,” he said. “They hit big shots. They picked me up tonight and helped me out.”
Philadelphia led 61-52 at halftime and took an 86-66 lead on Iverson’s basket with 4:14 left in the third quarter.
“Our defense has to be more solid, 111 points on our court is too many,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “We have to be a better defensive team than that.”