INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The playoff spot Indiana seemed to take for
granted earlier this season has been secured.
Jermaine O'Neal had 24 points and 11 rebounds and Ron Artest
added 20 points as the Pacers defeated the Phoenix Suns 92-81
Sunday and clinched their 13th playoff berth in the past 14
The Pacers have won two consecutive games after dropping 15 of 19
to fall into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They have two
games left against teams ahead of them in the standings -- Detroit
on April 4 and New Jersey on April 16.
''We've got to keep gaining ground,'' O'Neal said. ''We want to
try and squeeze back in there, if not the one (seed), then
definitely number two.''
Indiana is starting to show signs of playing like the team that
was 22 games over .500, not the one plagued the past two months by
injury, suspension and off-court distractions.
''We're starting to get our rhythm back,'' O'Neal said. ''Guys
are here. They're back to their respective roles on the team. We're
back to our regular rotations. Hopefully, we can continue.''
The Pacers hope a healthy, focused lineup will keep this streak
The Pacers likely will have starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley
back in the lineup Tuesday after he missed three games following
the death of his mother. Brad Miller has missed games with a foot
injury, and O'Neal's stepfather is recovering from a self-inflicted
''Our emotional health is getting better,'' coach Isiah Thomas
said. ''It's been a very difficult month for a lot of these
players. It was a lot to throw at this team.''
The Pacers took control with one fast spurt late in the first
half. Steals by Artest and O'Neal were converted into four quick
points, and a block by Reggie Miller turned into a fastbreak
3-pointer by Artest. O'Neal then blocked a 3-pointer by Shawn
The tally: Two steals, two blocks and a seven-point turnaround
in the final 1½ minutes, giving the Pacers a 50-44 lead at the
The Suns rallied late, but never really recovered.
The Pacers built on that charge in the third, as Artest hit a
3-pointer to start a 13-2 run. The Suns missed seven of their first
eight shots as Indiana pushed the lead to 17.
''We gave them a little momentum and they kept it into the
second half. That happens on the road,'' Marion said. ''They got a
momentum change and they ran with it.''
Artest has been solid offensively and keeping his emotions under
control since returning from a two-game suspension for exceeding
the limit on flagrant foul points. He's shot better than 50 percent from
the floor in each of the past three games, and added six rebounds,
six assists and five steals against the Suns.
The Suns pulled to 88-81 when Marion hit a running jumper with
1:21 left, but they wouldn't score again.
Brad Miller had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Erick Strickland
had 16 points for the Pacers.
Reggie Miller did not take a field-goal or free-throw
attempt in 17 minutes in the first half. ... O'Neal and Thomas each
earned technical fouls in the first half, giving the Pacers an
NBA-high 75. ... The Suns had their two-game winning streak
snapped. ... The Suns haven't won in Indianapolis since 1998. ...
Tim Hardaway followed his 21-minute, 14-point Indiana debut Friday
with three points in 12 minutes. ... The Pacers are 30-7 at home
and 13-14 against the Western Conference.