Indiana Pacers Drops Below .500

Friday, January 28th 2005, 6:29 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ The Indiana Pacers expected to struggle a bit after losing five players to suspensions in November.

Two months and a bunch of losses later, the team's patience is being seriously tested.

Chauncey Billups scored 20 points Thursday night as the Detroit Pistons rolled to an 88-76 victory for their second straight victory at Indiana.

``I feel bad for everybody who has to watch us play. It's a tough time for us,'' Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal said. ``We've got to figure a way to get out of this funk. I do believe there's going to be better days.''

The Pacers have lost three straight and five of seven, dropping under .500 for the second time this season after losing their second straight to the Pistons since the Nov. 19 brawl between Pacers players and Detroit fans.

Five Indiana players were suspended, but the Pacers were nearly back to full strength Thursday night for the first time since the November melee. It didn't help much.

Two players involved in the brawl, O'Neal and Stephen Jackson, carried the scoring burden for Indiana. O'Neal finished with 27 points and nine rebounds, while Jackson had 11 points and five rebounds. The only other player in double figures was Fred Jones, who came off the bench to score 14 points.

Elsewhere, San Antonio defeated Sacramento 90-80 and Chicago beat Charlotte 101-93.

To coach Rick Carlisle, losing a third straight game was tough. Losing again to Detroit seemed almost disheartening.

``Detroit is a big team, a tremendous team. They played really well,'' Carlisle said. ``They've got all their guys. We couldn't match that tonight.''

All five Pistons starters reached double figures. Richard Hamilton had 17 points and six assists, while Tayshaun Prince had 16 points and seven rebounds. Ben Wallace had 10 points and 11 rebounds and was booed each time he scored.

Detroit tried to take advantage of the Prince-Jackson matchup, since it was just Jackson's second game back after his 30-game suspension for the brawl.

``If anything, I wanted to get this game today, being out 30 games took its toll,'' Jackson said. ``I've got to work harder to get back in shape.''

The Pistons also exploited another mismatch, Jamaal Tinsley on Billups. Tinsley missed Wednesday night's game with the flu and was ineffective Thursday. He missed all six of his shots, finished with two points and spent most of the night in foul trouble.

Again, it was an emotional game with five technical fouls called. Near the end of the game, Pistons players jawed with Pacers fans, sometimes playfully.

``I like playing here, it's a good rivalry,'' Rasheed Wallace said. ``Their fans are real rowdy and hard on the opposing team and I like coming in here and playing against these guys.''

In this series, though, home-court advantage has meant nothing. The road team has won all three games this season, and Thursday night was Exhibit A in that case.

Reggie Miller, who denied a broadcast report that he decided to retire after this season, and Rasheed Wallace were each called for technicals in the first nine minutes. By halftime, Carlisle had also drawn a technical. O'Neal, who missed 15 games because of the November fight, was called for another technical early in the third quarter.

Between the calls, though, Detroit used runs of 13-2 and 6-0 to build a 39-25 lead.

The Pacers rallied just before halftime, scoring the last five points to close to 47-40. But Detroit opened the second half by scoring five straight points and pulled away with a 7-0 spurt that made it 66-51 with 2:18 left in the third quarter. The Pacers got no closer than eight the rest of the way.

``You put any pro team, I don't care what league, in our position, there are going to be some struggles,'' O'Neal said. ``We've just got to keep fighting. Hopefully, February will be a lot better than January.''

Spurs 90, Kings 80

At San Antonio, Manu Ginobili scored 25 points and Tim Duncan added 20 for the Spurs, who fended off a late rally.

Sacramento, which lost to San Antonio by 30 at home Sunday, made it more of a contest despite playing without Peja Stojakovic, who sat out with back spasms.

The Kings cut San Antonio's lead to 78-77 when Chris Webber stole the ball and passed to Brad Miller for a layup with 5:06 left. The Spurs then went on an 8-0 run as Robert Horry made three free throws, Bruce Bowen hit a 3-pointer and Duncan worked inside for a layup.

Bulls 101, Bobcats 93

At Chicago, Jannero Pargo scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter and Andres Nocioni added 17 points off the bench as Chicago got 63 points from its reserves.

Eric Piatkowski added 16 points for Chicago, which extended its winning streak to five games. The Bulls have won 12 of their last 13, and eight straight at home.

The Bobcats have dropped 10 straight and have the NBA's worst road record at 1-18. They have lost 16 of 17 overall since winning three of four games from Dec. 14-22.