ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Ron Artest expected boos, and he got them.
He also handled them well.
Artest was perfectly behaved in his return to the NBA on
Wednesday night. He played OK, too, especially considering he
missed most of last season.
"They were nice boos," Artest said with a smile. "They had to
do that because they had nothing else to do. I am not paying
attention to it."
Artest started 1-of-7 from the field, but shook off the rust in
the second half and led the Pacers to victory with several big
plays and strong defense. He finished 4-of-14 from the floor and
6-of-9 from the free throw line.
"This is going to be a process for him," Pacers coach Rick
Carlisle said. "I would think it's going to be 20 to 30 games
before he really starts to feel comfortable after being off for
Artest converted a three-point play and made two 3-pointers --
all in a 2-minute span late in the third quarter -- that helped
Indiana build an 11-point lead.
The Pacers held on from there and didn't need any clutch shots
from Miller, the face of the franchise who retired in May after 18
Artest's return was a much bigger story line.
All eyes were on the forward from the moment he entered TD
WaterHouse Centre. He was loudly booed during pregame introductions
and again every time his name was called. But he showed no reaction
-- on the bench or on the court.
"Ron Artest is a guy that's used to getting a lot of attention,
so this is not a big deal for him," Carlisle said. "He just goes
out and plays, and tonight he played a quality game even though his
stats weren't sparkling."
Artest played sound defense -- his trademark -- and was effective
on the break and in half-court sets. Maybe more importantly, he was
No brawls. No hard fouls. Not even a verbal jab.
He will be forever linked to the Nov. 19, 2004, brawl between
the Pacers and the Detroit Pistons.
Artest reacted violently when a fan hit him in the face with a
drink, setting off the worst brawl in U.S. sports history. Artest
ran into the stands and pushed the fan he thought threw the cup. He
also punched a fan who came onto the court.
Teammates joined in the melee, but Artest got most of the blame.
He was suspended for the rest of the season -- 73 games, plus the
playoffs -- the harshest punishment ever for a fight.
The Pacers have grown tired of talking about the fight. They
want to focus on the season, one in which they are one of the
favorites in the Eastern Conference.
They played like it against the Magic, spoiling the return of
coach Brian Hill.
"I'm just disappointed in not winning the basketball game,"
Hill said. "Other than that, it was coaching another game. It was
good to be back in the building and in the home locker room instead
of that crappy visiting locker room."
The victory came without Grant Hill in the lineup for Orlando.
The team's second-leading scorer last season, Hill could miss up to
six weeks after having surgery Monday for a sports hernia.
"He's not here, so we can't worry about that," Brian Hill
Steve Francis led the Magic with 15 points, nine rebounds and
seven assists -- maybe playing as unselfishly as ever.
"I think Steve's doing a great job. I couldn't be more pleased
with the way he's playing," Brian Hill said.
The Pacers played without centers Jeff Foster (Achilles'
tendon) Scot Pollard (strained calf). ... The Magic lost an opener
for the first time since 1999. ... In a rare move, Francis grabbed
a microphone just before tip-off and told the home crowd that the
franchise was committed to winning and asked for their support. ...
The Little League World Series team from nearby Maitland, which
included sons of former major leaguers Dante Bichette and Mike
Stanley, was recognized between quarters and received autographed
baseballs from Magic players.