Pacers step up to O'Neal's challenge, overrun Hornets

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Indiana Pacers are still a long way
from where Jermaine O'Neal wants them to go. At least they are
headed in the right direction.

O'Neal was a big part of it, making two key layups to help the
Pacers to a 100-93 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday
night in his first game since issuing a challenge to his Indiana

O'Neal finished with 22 points, two nights after calling the
Pacers "a very average team" and suggesting that he and the team
should go "separate ways" at the end of the season "if I can't
take this team to another level."

O'Neal said he didn't want the Pacers to "mingle around .500"
and then make an early exit from the playoffs. This win snapped a
two-game losing streak and kept the Pacers above .500 at 18-16.

"It's too early," O'Neal said. "We've had situations where
we've looked extremely good and then we come back the next night
and we look extremely bad. It's too early to say we're making huge
steps. It was a baby step."

O'Neal hit back-to-back layups from the left block to break away
from an 83-all tie and spark a 10-3 run that gave the Pacers
control of the game in the final 4 minutes.

"We have guys that can score, but at times when we are
struggling scoring, I do want the ball. That is a fact," O'Neal
said. "But I have a lot of confidence in my teammates to be able
to make plays."

The Hornets played from behind most of the night and had tied
the game at 83 on Desmond Mason's hook shot in the lane.

O'Neal followed with his two layups before Rasual Butler got New
Orleans back within 87-85 by turning a steal into a right-handed
runout dunk. Jeff Foster answered that with two free throws for
Indiana and Jamaal Tinsley hit consecutive jumpers to put the game
out of reach.

"The key for us tonight was timely playmaking and shots by our
main guys," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.

Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson each scored 27 points and
Tinsley added 13 for the Pacers, who have never been more than two
games above or below .500 this season.

"We just need to put some wins (together) and finally get at
least a three-game winning streak together to be considered making
strides," O'Neal said.

Mason finished with 28 points -- his most since being acquired by
the Hornets in a trade last preseason -- to lead six Hornets in
double figures. Jannero Pargo scored 14 points, Marc Jackson and
Devin Brown each added 11 and Butler and Tyson Chandler had 10

The Hornets, who are without starters Chris Paul, Peja
Stojakovic and David West, have lost 18 of 22.

"It was obvious how badly we needed to win," Carlisle said.
"New Orleans threw the kitchen sink at us. They played a great
game considering the circumstances. There were opportunities for us
to fold, and we just didn't do it."

The Pacers opened the game on a 10-1 run, but allowed the
Hornets to even the game at 25 after a run of seven straight

O'Neal scored the next seven points to put Indiana back on top,
and the Pacers didn't trail until early in the second half. Once
they did, Tinsley hit a pair of 3-pointers as Indiana answered
Mason's three-point play with a 10-0 run to take a 67-60 lead late
in the third quarter.

The Hornets closed within 71-70 on another three-point play by
Mason and Linton Johnson's buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the
third quarter.

Hornets coach Byron Scott, who questioned whether his team had
quit on the season after a 92-68 loss to Detroit on Thursday,
thought his team was more aggressive against Indiana.

"I had no complaint on our effort," Scott said. "I thought
that we played hard. There were little things that we didn't do
that we have talked about all year long. ... We do not have the
manpower to make those kinds of mistakes."

Game notes
O'Neal was indignant after the Dallas Cowboys were
eliminated from the NFC playoffs on a botched field-goal hold by
Tony Romo. O'Neal was watching on a television in a hallway outside
the Pacers' locker room when Romo misplaced the hold to seal
Seattle's 21-20 win. ... Brown started at point guard in place of
Pargo, who'd made six straight starts in place of Paul and Bobby
Jackson (cracked left rib). "Devin has that experience. The one
thing about Devin that I know is that he's not going to turn the
ball over. He's going to take good shots," Scott said. ...
Jackson, who missed 16 games with the rib injury before playing 10
minutes against Detroit on Thursday, said he was too sore to play
again and considered himself "day to day." ... The Pacers avoided
their third three-game losing streak this season.