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Pacers Battle Cavaliers, James
Posted Dec 9 2006 2:23PM
NBA.com Daily Confidential
As the Cleveland Cavaliers prepare to welcome back one of their starters, the Indiana Pacers are learning to adjust without one of theirs.
The teams meet on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena in the second of four games this season between the Central Division rivals.
The Cavaliers (11-7) are hoping to have Larry Hughes back after the guard missed the last 10 games because of a high ankle sprain. His status was upgraded from questionable to probable on Friday, after he went through a full practice for the second straight day.
He will be re-evaluated after the team's shoot-around Saturday.
Cleveland has gone 5-5 without Hughes following a 6-2 start to the season. He averaged 13.8 points and 3.1 assists in his eight games, and his return could take some of the offensive pressure off LeBron James, who leads the Cavs in scoring with 27.3 points per game.
James scored 26 and had 10 assists in Wednesday's 95-91 win over the Toronto Raptors. The bench added 35 points, led by Donyell Marshall's 19-point, six-rebound effort.
The Cavaliers trailed by seven in the final five minutes, but James scored five points, had three assists and grabbed a rebound in a 13-0 run to give Cleveland a six-point lead with 2:09 left.
``When you got a guy like LeBron you really don't sweat it,'' said rookie Daniel Gibson, who finished with a career-high 18 points and five rebounds. ``You know that moment is going to come.''
While the Cavaliers may get their injured starter back, the Pacers (11-10) are expecting to play without leading scorer Jermaine O'Neal for the second straight game.
O'Neal missed Friday's 108-95 win over the Portland Trail Blazers because of a sore hamstring. His 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game are both team highs.
Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle said an MRI revealed O'Neal's hamstring ``has the beginnings of a possible tear and significant swelling.''
However, swingman Stephen Jackson expects Indiana to adjust without O'Neal.
``It's been like that the last three years - this team has had to play without somebody,'' said Jackson, who had 25 points on Friday. ``This team is used to it now. I think everybody embraces their chance to shine and go out and play.''
Point guard Jamaal Tinsley had 20 points - 18 in the second half. He added eight rebounds and eight assists. Thirty-year-old power forward Maceo Baston made his first career start in O'Neal's place and finished with nine points and two rebounds.
The Pacers are looking to win three straight games for the first time this season.
Indiana defeated Cleveland won 97-87 on Nov. 24 at home. James led the Cavaliers with 30 points, while O'Neal's 29 led the Pacers. Hughes did not play.
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