NBA: Indiana 96, New Jersey 83

Friday, December 31st 2004, 6:36 am
By: News On 6

(AP) - Jermaine O'Neal didn't let his court battle hurt his basketball game.

Hours after a judge ruled that he didn't have to serve the final 10 games of a suspension, O'Neal scored 31 points to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 96-83 win over the New Jersey Nets on Thursday night.

"It was somewhat a relief," O'Neal said after his long day that started with an appearance in a New York City federal court and ended in an arena in New Jersey.

"It was something I didn't have to think about. I thought about my teammates more than anything. I've been back for three games and we're getting that family atmosphere and starting to trust each other."

With O'Neal back in the lineup, the Pacers have won three straight games, matching their longest streak since the Nov. 19 brawl against Detroit that led to multiple suspensions.

O'Neal got a 25-game suspension, but an arbitrator reduced it to 15 games last week allowing him to return to action. Judge George B. Daniels upheld that decision in New York about three hours before the Pacers and Nets faced off.

"Since he got back from his little suspension, he's been making those shots," said Pacers centre Jeff Foster, who had 16 points and a season-high 16 rebounds. "He's basically unstoppable.

"He has made them the last three games. Knowing now that he has the weight lifted off his shoulders, we expect great things from him the rest of the way."

Elsewhere in the NBA on Thursday, it was: Miami 89, Detroit 78; San Antonio 114, Portland 80; and Seattle 94 Atlanta 79.

At East Rutherford, N.J., Austin Croshere added 17 points for Indiana, which spoiled Vince Carter's Nets home debut. The former Toronto Raptor's appearance drew a sellout crowd of 20,174, a club home record.

"I felt like I let them down," said Carter, who had 25 points, eight rebounds and a couple of highlight dunks. "I didn't play well.

"I think I was trying too hard."

In contrast, O'Neal seemed relaxed on the court, despite not having eaten since Wednesday afternoon because of an illness. After missing his first shot, he hit five in a row to help the Pacers grab the lead for good in the first quarter.

In a span between the second and third quarters, he missed eight straight shots and once sat down next to two young children at courtside to laugh about his woes.

However, when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, O'Neal took over and scored nine points.

After Richard Jefferson scored to cut the Pacers' lead to 66-65, O'Neal converted a three-point play to spark a 15-4 spurt that gave Indiana an 81-69 lead. O'Neal, who fouled out in the closing minutes, also had two other baskets in the run.

"Tonight he played a monster game, and there were a lot of guys who stepped up in critical roles," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said of O'Neal.

Jefferson and Rodney Buford added 20 points apiece for the Nets. Jason Kidd had 11 rebounds, 10 assists and four points.

Jamaal Tinsley, who missed his first nine shots from the field, had 15 points for the Pacers, including a three-pointer in the deciding run.

SuperSonics 94, Hawks 79

At Atlanta, Ray Allen scored 20 points and Rashard Lewis added 17 to lead the SuperSonics, who overcame the ejections of Jerome James and Danny Fortson.

Heat 89, Pistons 78

At Auburn Hills, Mich., Dwyane Wade had 31 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds to lead Miami past the Pistons.

Spurs 114, Trail Blazers 80

At Portland, Ore., Tim Duncan had 19 points and nine rebounds and Tony Parker added 18 points to lead San Antonio.