<
>

Artest scores 22 on 25th birthday

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Once again, the ailing and short-handed
Indiana Pacers built a big lead. This time, they were able to hold
off New York's furious comeback.

Jermaine O'Neal had 33 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked
shots, Ron Artest marked his 25th birthday with 22 points and
Stephen Jackson added 19 as the Pacers fought off fatigue and beat
the Knicks 103-97 Saturday night.

"It's always hard to play the minutes we've been playing, but
we don't have any choice," O'Neal said. "Our focus is to win as
many games as we need to win to get to the championship. We don't
care who's on the court as long as we have five to eight guys
dressing."

It was Indiana's fourth game in five nights, and because of
injuries the Pacers had only 10 players available and used just
eight, with all five starters logging at least 38 minutes.

Once again, as they did in an overtime loss at Philadelphia the
night before, the Pacers built a seemingly comfortable lead in the
first half. This time, they stayed in front, but it wasn't easy.

A basket and free throw by Stephon Marbury cut Indiana's
one-time 21-point lead to 10 late in the third quarter. The Pacers
built it back to 83-67 going into the final period, but Marbury had
11 of his season-high 37 points in the fourth quarter, including a
basket that pulled New York to 101-95 with under a half-minute to
go.

Artest then iced the game with two free throws before Jerome
Williams scored for New York at the buzzer.

"We can't make no excuses," Jackson said. "We have our two
all-stars (O'Neal and Artest) and we have enough guys to sub in and
sub out, so we have to play. We can't really think about who we
don't have."

Reggie Miller, Jeff Foster and Anthony Johnson are on the injury
list for Indiana, while Jonathan Bender, Fred Jones and Scot
Pollard didn't play for the second straight game because of a
variety of other ailments.

"With J.O. and Ron out there, physically able to play, there's
no excuse why we shouldn't win," Jackson said. "We're 5-2. We're
happy with that, but we know there's a lot of room to improve, and
we will."

Nazr Mohammed added a season-high 20 points for the Knicks.

O'Neal, who had a career-high 39 points in the overtime loss at
Philadelphia, scored 12 in the first quarter against the Knicks. He
hit five straight baskets at one stretch, including one that gave
the Pacers the lead for good at 19-17 midway through the period.

New York still trailed by just two, however, before a 3-pointer
by James Jones at the buzzer gave Indiana a 37-32 first-quarter
lead.

Artest scored seven points, including two baskets on goaltending
calls, and New York missed its first eight shots during a 14-2
Indiana run that appeared to break the game open at the start of
the second quarter. Indiana's biggest lead was 61-40 before the
Knicks began their comeback.

"If we had folded, I would have been mad, but we got back in
there and made some defensive adjustments," Knicks coach Lenny
Wilkens said of the double-teaming of O'Neal. "O'Neal has
developed into a great offensive player, and if you let him get
under the basket, we're in trouble. The focus was to meet him
quicker, and in the second half we did a better job."

Game notes
The start of the game was delayed about 15 minutes because
of a faulty shot clock on the east basket. The arena crew replaced
the entire goal and officials extended the pregame warmups before
tipoff. ... Indiana's 63 points in the first two periods matched
its season high for one half, but that included the third and
fourth quarters and two overtimes in the opener at Cleveland. ...
Indiana has won eight straight at home against the Knicks. ...
Marbury's 37 points gave him 12,005 for his career. ... The game
was the first of a four-game road trip for the Knicks. ... The only
subs for the Pacers were Jones, Eddie Gill and rookie David
Harrison.