CHARLOTTE, N.C., Dec. 29 (Ticker) --
A day before he learns
his fate in a federal court, Jermaine O'Neal
made his presence
felt on a court in Charlotte.
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O'Neal scored 24 points and grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds as
the Indiana Pacers escaped with a 74-71 win over the Bobcats.
O'Neal's initial 25-game suspension for his involvement in the
ugly brawl in Detroit in November was cut to 15 games by an
arbitrator last week. He has played three games since returning
-- averaging 20.3 points and 11.7 rebounds -- but may need to
serve some or all of the 10 extra games if a judge rules
Thursday that the arbitrator's authority is in question.
"I can guarantee this, after tomorrow, it's going to be done
with," O'Neal said. "So either way we won't have to talk about
this no more. It's seven weeks old.
"It's in the judge's hand. Hopefully the process will continue
to happen the way it has for me and whatever the outcome is,
I've got to deal with it."
For the time being, the Pacers will be happy with their center's
effort and back-to-back wins for just the second time this
"I'm just thinking about how good it feels to win two in a row
and how great it is to have Jermaine back," Indiana coach Rick Carlisle
said. "It's certainly no accident that that has
happened. I'll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. This team has
earned a quality win and we've gotten ourselves above .500 and
we're looking forward for more opportunities to get better."
The Pacers are 8-3 with O'Neal in the lineup and 6-10 without
The three-time All-Star scored six points in the fourth and was
involved in two big plays that helped keep the Bobcats on the
short end down the stretch. He hit a turnaround baseline jumper
to give Indiana a 69-67 lead with 3:38 left and assisted on
Jamaal Tinsley's 3-pointer on the next possession.
"(Jermaine) looked great tonight and he made two huge plays down
the stretch," Carlisle said. "Great players make big time plays
when they really count. There's no substitute for having him
out there tonight."
Tinsley's shot snapped a 69-69 tie and gave the Pacers the lead
for good. He scored 14 points and was the only other Indiana
player in double figures.
Bobcats guard Jason Hart
missed a 3-pointer just before the
scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for his
17th straight double-double and Melvin Ely
recorded his first
with 14 and 11 for Charlotte.
"We played hard and we almost got this one," Okafor said. "We
would have liked it to have been a little bit different at the
end, but it's a learning process. They made some shots, we
didn't make some shots, and that's the way it goes."
The Bobcats were just 6-of-13 from the line in losing their
second in a row following five straight wins at Charlotte
"That's going to keep continuing to kill us, especially against
good teams," Ely said. "With a team like Indiana, you really
have to go out and play hard and match their intensity and hope
for a couple of balls that fall your way. If we'd made our free
throws, we'd be smiling instead of being (ticked) off."
Charlotte head coach Bernie Bickerstaff
echoed Ely's sentiments.
"The bottom line is the game got down to the hustle things,
where we didn't go after loose balls, and we didn't make free
throws," Bickerstaff said. "It was that simple of a basketball