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O'Neal scores 29 as Pacers beat depleted T-Wolves

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- With Jermaine O'Neal healthy, the Indiana
Pacers are poised to make the playoffs for the ninth straight
season.

O'Neal had 29 points and 12 rebounds to help Indiana beat the
Minnesota Timberwolves 89-77 on Friday night for its third straight
win.

It was his highest point total since returning from a torn left
groin a month ago and his second straight double-double. He had 21
points and 15 rebounds in Wednesday night's win over Boston.

"He's getting healthy, that's what it is," Indiana guard
Stephen Jackson said. "His attitude has always been great, he's
always been a leader. He's getting back to his All-Star caliber
game. Everybody knew when he got healthy he'd be playing like this.
We're just happy to have him back."

Jackson scored 17 points and Anthony Johnson added 12 for the
Pacers.

Indiana (39-40) is tied for fifth place in the Eastern
Conference with Milwaukee and Washington. The Pacers need to win
two of their last three to avoid their first losing season since
1996-97, the last time they missed the playoffs.

The Pacers held the Timberwolves to 32 percent shooting and 32
points in the second half.

"We were teetering on not putting those guys away but we were
able to put together some stops there in the second half," Johnson
said.

Eddie Griffin had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Marcus Banks
added 15 points for the Timberwolves, who have long been out of the
Western Conference playoff hunt.

The Timberwolves were missing several key players, including top
scorer and rebounder Kevin Garnett, but their reserves hung with
the Pacers for a while. Indiana led by as many as 10 points in the
second quarter but Minnesota took a 54-53 lead on a layup by Justin
Reed with 8:27 left in the third quarter.

The Pacers, led by Austin Croshere's seven points, outscored the
Timberwolves 20-10 the rest of the period to take a 73-64 lead into
the fourth quarter.

The Pacers held Minnesota to 5-for-18 shooting in the fourth
quarter.

Minnesota coach Dwane Casey said he was proud of some of his
younger players for making the Pacers work hard.

"We're missing two of our main horses and our young guys can
keep their heads up against a playoff-hungry team," he said.

Croshere scored nine of his 11 points in the second half to help
the Pacers rally.

"We kept playing," Jackson said. "We didn't do what we
normally do and that's clock watch."

The Pacers outscored the Timberwolves 20-6 from the free-throw
line and won the rebounding battle 46-41.

The Pacers are 3-0 since a players-only meeting after Sunday's
25-point loss at Detroit.

"We just really thought we needed to put aside differences,
whatever they were, put aside the problems we had among each other
with the staff or the organization or whatever it may be," O'Neal
said. "The fact of the matter was that we still hadn't learned to
play hard."

Game notes
Garnett sat out for the fourth straight game with
tendinitis in his right knee. Anthony Carter, Ricky Davis, Troy
Hudson and Rashad McCants also sat out with injuries. ...
Minnesota's makeshift starting five entered the game averaging a
combined 37 points. Indiana's averaged 57. ... Indiana center Jeff
Foster sat out with a sore lower back and guard Fred Jones missed
the game with a torn ligament in his left thumb. ... Indiana center
David Harrison played briefly after missing four games because of a
sore left knee.