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Miami does little to slow Indiana's recent hot streak

4/7/2003

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indiana's aches and pains are starting to
heal, and tempers are being kept in check.

Now, the Pacers appear ready to try and reclaim first place in
the Eastern Conference.

Continuing their recovery from a post All-Star break slump, the
Pacers closed the third quarter with a 15-0 run and had their best
defensive effort of the season Sunday in a 90-69 victory over the
Miami Heat.

''We want to go into the playoffs with as much momentum as
possible,'' said Jermaine O'Neal. ''We feel like we're playing at
the top of our game.''

Jonathan Bender scored 15 points and Ron Artest added 13 as
Indiana won for the fifth time in six games and moved into third
place in the East.

The Pacers lost 12 of 13 from mid-February to mid-March, but are
now two games behind New Jersey for first place in the East and 1½ games back of Detroit in the Central Division. The Nets visit
Indiana on April 16 in the season finale.

''Our offense is moving at a higher rate like it was at the
beginning of the year,'' Reggie Miller said. ''I think our defense
is really speaking volumes for us right now. That's what's going to
win games for us.''

It was the fewest amount of points allowed by the Pacers this
year. They held Orlando to 70 points on Nov. 22.

The Pacers broke the game open in the third, ending the quarter
on a 27-4 run -- including the final 15 points. They made 10 of 15
shots and outrebounded the Heat 14-4 in the quarter. Miller and
Artest scored nine points each in the quarter.

Artest, who was fined $20,000 by the NBA last week for making an
obscene gesture to the crowd after being struck by a coin during
Indiana's victory at Cleveland, kept his cool against the Heat.

The last time Artest played the Heat he exchanged words with
Heat assistant coach Keith Askins, bumped into coach Pat Riley,
made an obscene gesture at the crowd and earned himself a four-game
suspension.

There were no altercations Sunday, though Artest didn't totally
avoid the Heat bench. He went crashing into it while chasing after
a loose ball, receiving little help in getting up.

''I was definitely under control tonight,'' Artest said. ''Just
play and win. It's too crucial now. It's got to be all basketball
from here on out. There can't be any extra stuff.''

The Pacers rediscovered their offensive health right around the
same time Bender was activated off the injured list early last
month after Indiana lost 12 of 13. Injuries have limited his
effectiveness, but the 7-foot forward has reached double figures in
four of the past six games.

Bender scored nine of his points in the second quarter, helping
the Pacers to a 44-37 lead at the half.

''It's a real confidence boost for us going into the playoffs,''
Bender said. ''We need to get the rest of the few games we've got
and go in there with huge momentum.''

Bender was part of a balanced offense that also got 12 points
from Jermaine O'Neal and 11 each from Brad Miller and Reggie
Miller.

Mike James led the Heat with 19 points and Brain Grant had 15
points and 10 rebounds.

''It was pretty pathetic out there,'' said Heat coach Pat Riley.
''We didn't have much resolve out there.''

The offensive woes continued for Miami, which has lost 17 of
19. Miami had fewer than 70 points for the ninth time this season
and came close to matching its season-low point total (62).

Game notes
Pacers guard Tim Hardaway scored five points in 15 minutes in
his first game against Miami since coming out of retirement. He
spent six years with Miami. Miami guard Travis Best scored two points
in 26 minutes in his first game against the Pacers. He spent 6½ years with the Pacers ... If Grant plays in the final six games, he
will become the third player in team in history to play all 82
games. Grant Long and Glen Rice each did it twice. ... Colts
running back, and Miami native Edgerrin James was at the game and
signed autographs for pestering fans. ... The Pacers swept the
four-game season series.