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Pacers beat Bulls in O'Neal's return from injury

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Jermaine O'Neal didn't need to play his best
to give the Indiana Pacers a much-needed boost.

In his first action in two months, the All-Star forward looked
rusty at times and several of his shots were blocked, but his
return sparked the Pacers to a 95-85 win over the Chicago Bulls on
Wednesday night.

"The motivation of having J.O. back with us was a lift,"
Indiana's Stephen Jackson said. "Even if J.O. didn't come out and
get 30 tonight, just his presence was big. He's our leader, he's an
All-Star."

O'Neal scored 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting and missed half of
his 12 free throw attempts in 25 minutes. He missed 24 games with a
torn left groin, but entered the game to a loud ovation with 6:21
left in the first quarter. He scored on his first shot with 5:58
left in the period.

"I was nervous walking up to the scorer's table, but as soon as
I checked into the game and the fans started chanting, I was all
right," he said.

O'Neal then turned his focus to helping Indiana secure a
precious victory as the season winds down and the Pacers (34-32)
fight for a playoff spot.

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said the Pacers' 30-point loss to
Memphis on Tuesday affected O'Neal.

"He may have moved his schedule up because of what happened in
Memphis last night," Carlisle said. "We knew he was getting
closer and closer. I thought it could be this week some time."

Jackson led the Pacers with 24 points.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Pacers and
extended Chicago's losing streak to four games.

Andres Nocioni had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls. Ben
Gordon, Chicago's leading scorer, was held to nine points on
3-for-15 shooting. Indiana held Chicago to 5-for-22 shooting in the
fourth quarter.

Chicago led 72-67 early in the fourth quarter before Jackson
scored seven points during a 12-0 Indiana run that gave the Pacers
a 79-72 lead.

Chicago closed to 84-80 on a basket by Nocioni with 3:14 left,
but the Pacers finished the game on an 11-5 run.

"I thought we got a little bit stagnant and they were able to
make plays when they had to," Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich said.
"We couldn't stop them when it counted."

The Bulls shot 52 percent in the first quarter to take a 27-14
lead. Indiana went 12-of-16 from the line in the second quarter to
cut Chicago's lead to 48-41 at halftime.

By the end of the third quarter, the Pacers had cut Chicago's
lead to 70-67. The Pacers led briefly in the period, but Chicago
finished on a 10-4 run to take a lead into the fourth.

Hinrich said the Bulls have wasted opportunities all season.

"They were coming off a big loss last night and we had them on
the ropes early in the game," he said. "But that's been our M.O.
this year. We've got to believe in ourselves. We can't keep blowing
opportunities to win games like tonight's."

Indiana forward Jeff Foster said the Pacers were glad to get
O'Neal back with enough time to get him in shape if Indiana makes
the playoffs.

"It's nice to have our best player back, and we know what he
can do when he gets his legs under him," Foster said.

Game notes
Foster had double-digit rebounds for seven straight games
before pulling down nine against Memphis on Tuesday night. He
started a new streak by grabbing 14 on Wednesday. ... Chicago's
Gordon has struggled lately, reaching double figures in just two of
his last seven games. He entered the game averaging 16.4 points.
... Indiana's David Harrison started for the first time since
playing at Cleveland on Jan. 24. ... Jamaal Tinsley returned for
the Pacers after missing Tuesday's game at Memphis with a sinus
infection. He has missed 34 of Indiana's 66 games with injury or
illness this season.