With a proposed trade sending Artest to Sacramento apparently on hold, the Pacers were held to 28 points in the second half, lost Jermaine O'Neal to another injury and were drubbed 96-66 by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
"We sure have had enough bad luck for a year," said O'Neal, who might have torn a groin muscle in the fourth quarter. "I'm really, really concerned. I heard it pop. Hopefully, I won't need surgery."
O'Neal, who said he has felt tightness in the groin for weeks, also hurt his right shoulder and was playing on a tender left ankle. He limped to the locker room with 9:30 remaining, but by then the Cavaliers were ahead by 20.
LeBron James met with Oscar Robertson before the game, then flirted with a triple-double in front of the man who patented them.
Wearing white tights under his shorts, a look likely to be copied by kids everywhere, James scored 23 points with eight assists and seven rebounds for the Cavaliers, just back from a 1-5 trip to the West Coast.
"I'm 2-0 with them," James said of the leggings. "I'm wearing them to keep warm so when I go to the bench it [his sore left knee] doesn't stiffen up."
Before the game, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle and CEO Donnie Walsh said that no trade involving Artest was imminent.
"There is no trade right now and there may not be a trade," Carlisle said. "There's nothing to talk about because there is no trade."
The Pacers could have used Artest, a defensive stopper who held James to 19 points on 6-of-20 shooting earlier this season. But they couldn't do much to slow Cleveland's All-Star in the third when he scored 12 points -- one fewer than the Pacers -- and the Cavs outscored Indiana 27-13.
Indiana shot 11-for-38 in the second half and lost its fourth in a row.
"We're not a very good basketball team right now," Carlisle said. "This was very disappointing. We couldn't hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle. The ball not going in in the third was key."
O'Neal, who has been outspoken about Artest's uncertain future, refused to use it as an excuse.
"I don't care about distractions or trades," O'Neal said. "We are missing one player. Anybody who says that bothers them, they have to be a better pro. This is the hand we've been dealt, and we go play it."
Before the game, James met for the first time with Robertson, the Hall of Famer with whom he is often compared.
"Hi, Oscar Robertson," the legend said, extending his hand to the 21-year-old superstar.
"LeBron James," the guard said.
Robertson, the only player to average a triple-double for a season, was not yet in his courtside seat in the first quarter when James fed Gooden with a gorgeous no-look pass before Pavlovic threaded him a bounce pass for one of James' signature windmill dunks.
James began toying with his seventh career triple-double right away, getting 10 points, four assists and three rebounds in the first 12 minutes. James didn't score in the second period but tacked on three more assists in a ragged quarter for both clubs.
Indiana's troubles continued in the third as the Pacers needed 7:23 to score their first two field goals and they had just seven points in the first 9:54 before a 6-0 run made it 69-51 entering the fourth.
"I don't think we've had a defensive performance like this," James said. "We came in with a defensive mind-set that we wanted to get stops. Even in the games we lost on the trip, we played some good defense, but we just weren't able to hit a big shot."
Artest would have fit right in when tempers flared during the third under Cleveland's basket when Indiana's Jeff Foster committed a hard foul on Gooden. The Cavaliers forward grabbed a handful of Foster's jersey before O'Neal, Pavlovic and others exchanged words, pushes and shoves.
"What skirmish? joked Gooden, sporting a cut on the bridge of his nose. "There were a lot of skirmishes out there."
Robertson, who had 181 career triple-doubles, thinks James
can one day average a triple-double for 82 games. "The key are the
rebounds," the Big O said to a nodding James. "He can do it.
Eventually, I think he will." ... The Cavs are 10-1 at home
against teams with a record of .500 or better. ... Pavlovic made
his second straight start as the latest guard to fill in for the
injured Larry Hughes, who is out at least another month following
finger surgery. The Cavs are 4-7 without Hughes. ... James' mother,
Gloria, sat in her usual baseline seat just days after she was
arrested in Akron on several charges, including drunken driving and
disorderly conduct. She pleaded not guilty and will have a pretrial
hearing Feb. 6.