PHILADELPHIA (AP)—Jermaine O’Neal looked the part of a player who knew Indiana’s season is sinking.
O’Neal’s knees were covered with basketball-sized ice packs, his left foot soaked in a numbing ice bucket. He held his head in his hands and rubbed his temples to ease the pressure.
Indiana’s season may be on ice—and soon—and O’Neal could have all summer to rest.
Andre Miller had 19 points and 11 assists, and short-handed Philadelphia dealt the Pacers a huge blow to their playoff hopes with a 90-86 victory on Tuesday night.
“We didn’t really meet the challenge that we needed to meet, especially since we’re in the playoff push,” O’Neal said. “There’s not a word that really describes the feeling of it, especially when we struggled the way we struggled tonight.”
The Pacers simply couldn’t put the ball in the basket, and never played with any sense of purpose until it was too late. They missed 16 of their first 20 shots and finished at 33 percent shooting.
No one was immune. O’Neal missed his first seven. Danny Granger his first 13.
“Our ability to not even make shots from the field really put us in a bind,” O’Neal said.
The Pacers fell two games behind Orlando for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race and have five games left, including Wednesday night at Milwaukee.
“We’ve put ourselves in an even tougher position and hopefully we can get out of it,” O’Neal said. “We’ve got to hope we can get some help and we’ve got to win out.”
O’Neal, playing with a sore left knee and ankle, finished with 21 points on a woeful 7-for-22 shooting. Jeff Foster added 15 points.
“We couldn’t hit a bull in the (butt) with a bass fiddle,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “We had a lot of good looks, but the inability to make shots was our undoing.”
Iguodala also will miss Friday’s game at Boston with a strained lower back. He will visit a doctor on Wednesday morning and coach Maurice Cheeks said the Sixers’ leading scorer will not make the trip to Boston.
“We had a lot of different lineups out there. We didn’t have any other options,” Cheeks said.
The Pacers were without point guard Jamaal Tinsley (sore elbow).
The Sixers had a couple of brief of playoff-push teases, but were never really going anywhere this season and had their spot in the lottery secured in December. But the Pacers have underachieved all season, and this is one of many losses they could look back at in regret.
O’Neal finally got going in the fourth and took out some overdue anger on the Sixers with a ruthless dunk over Dalembert and made a free throw that pulled the Pacers within one. O’Neal followed with a turnaround jumper in the paint, again over Dalembert, that made it 75-74 for Indiana’s first lead of the game.
Even with so much at stake for the Pacers, they simply didn’t have enough to finish off a Sixers team that got heavy production from second- and third-teamers like Smith and Williams.
Three times the Pacers took the lead down the stretch—on Troy Murphy’s 3-pointer, and baskets from O’Neal and Shawne Williams—only to have the Sixers come right back and tie the score or go ahead.
Smith put Philadelphia ahead with a fast-break dunk in the open court and Miller followed with a jumper from the left side that all but wrapped up the win.
“We’re just trying to finish up strong this season, and gain some momentum for next year,” Williams said.
Indiana failed in its bid to win three straight games for the first time since late February. Of course, the last time the Pacers did that, they followed with an 11-game losing streak.
“We have to win games. We can’t concern ourselves with what other teams are doing,” Carlisle said. “We’ve just got to regroup real quick.”
Iguodala said he would like to play against Orlando on Saturday, but would not rush back with the Sixers out of the playoff race. … Sixers rookie F Bobby Jones made his first start. … Sixers F Louis Amundson was named the NBA Development League’s Rookie of the Year. Amundson, signed last month to a contract for the rest of the season, averaged 11.1 points for the Colorado 14ers.