Indiana clinches home-court advantage for first round

NEW YORK (AP) -- Tim Hardaway showed exactly why he'll be an
asset to the Indiana Pacers when the playoffs begin.

Hardaway made all four of his shots while playing the final 16
minutes of the first half, helping the Indiana Pacers clinch
home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs with a
109-93 victory over New York on Tuesday night.

"He came in and steadied our offense and really got us going,"
coach Isiah Thomas said of Hardaway, who came out of retirement
late last month after spending the first three-quarters of the
season as a television studio commentator.

Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest scored 23 points each and Ron
Mercer had 17 for the Pacers, who can move up to third place in the
Eastern Conference if they finish tied with Philadelphia. Both
teams conclude their regular seasons Wednesday night.

The Pacers outscored New York 48-36 when the 36-year-old
Hardaway was on the floor. He finished with 12 points, four assists
and three rebounds before sitting out the entire second half.

"With Tim it's a matter of trying to save the gas that's in the
tank, and I thought he did a good job getting us back into the game
and steadying the offense," Thomas said.

Lee Nailon and Shandon Anderson scored 13 apiece to lead the
Knicks, who learned earlier in the day that coach Don Chaney was
given a two-year contract extension that will keep him with the
club through the 2005-06 season.

The Knicks finished 37-45, a seven-game improvement off a year
ago when they missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

Hardaway helped Indiana turn things around after the Knicks
picked on Jamaal Tinsley in the early going.

Tinsley was a defensive liability in the first quarter, unable
to correctly defend the high pick-and-roll. Howard Eisley scored 10
points in the quarter and Kurt Thomas had eight, the two combining
to take 15 of New York's first 25 shots as the Knicks repeatedly
ran the same play.

"Most young players have a difficult time in this league
defending pick-and-rolls, and that's why the league runs
pick-and-rolls so much," Isiah Thomas said.

Hardaway entered the game with Indiana trailing 18-8, and the
Pacers got their deficit down to three points by the end of the
first quarter.

Hardaway hit consecutive 3-pointers early in the second quarter
to give Indiana its first lead since 4-3, and his third 3-pointer
gave the Pacers the lead for good, 46-43 with 5:10 left.

"I feel like I'm establishing my role here. I just come in and
give the team what we need: If we're down, try to give them some
energy; if we're up, sustain what they had begun for us," Hardaway

Hardaway played a season-high 23 minutes against Milwaukee in
the Pacers' previous game, and he was happy to find his outside
touch against New York.

His role figures to increase in the postseason if Tinsley's
shortcomings continue to be exploited.

"I played 16 straight minutes tonight. If that's not going to
get me ready, what is?" Hardaway said.

Indiana closed the third period with a 6-0 run to take a 79-68
lead, and Mercer hit consecutive jumpers early in the fourth
quarter to increase the Pacers' lead to 92-76.

Chaney emptied his bench after that, and rookie guard Frank
Williams was booed when he threw a no-look, behind-the-back pass
that was intercepted by O'Neal and led to a breakaway dunk by
Artest for a 99-82 lead with 5:12 left.

Game notes
Houston scored his 10,000th point as a member of the
Knicks. ... Artest had a nonconfrontational evening, his only brush
with danger coming when he collided with oversized actor Steve
Schirripa (Bobby Bacala on The Sopranos) while chasing a ball out
of bounds. ... The Pacers were without center Brad Miller, who is
sitting out the final two games of the regular season to rest his
sore feet. ... Knicks F Shandon Anderson played in his 499th
consecutive game -- the longest current streak in the NBA.


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