by Conrad Brunner
Jan. 10, 2003
PACERS (25-10) at ORLANDO (19-18)
Friday, Jan. 10, 2003
7 p.m., TD Waterhouse Centre
RADIO: WIBC-1070 AM
By Conrad Brunner
Talk about getting thrown right back into the fire. Ron Artest returns from his three-game suspension to face with the league's leading scorer, Tracy McGrady, who averaged 30.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists. The Pacers went 2-1 in Artest's absence, running their shorthanded record to 15-4 (including 10-2 without Reggie Miller and 3-1 without Jermaine O'Neal).
"It shows that it's not just me that has heart," Artest said. "The whole team is filled with lots of heart. The guys are playing great. I just want to come back and fit right in and do the same things they've been doing."
And make no mistake, they are welcoming his return.
"It'll be nice because I won't have to play 40 minutes," said Reggie Miller. "I feel sorry for the defenders their first night out. He's had six or seven days to rest and work out and he's raring to go, and we're excited to have him back."
Though Artest hasn't played since last Friday night, he's kept busy on his own. Upon returning to practice Thursday, he was the last player to leave the floor after completing an hour-long post-practice shooting session.
"It's unfortunate the things that happened," he said, referring to his destruction of TV equipment after a two-point loss to the Knicks on Jan. 3 in Madison Square Garden that resulted in his suspension. "It's a lesson learned. I want to play so bad and when things happen like that, it's no fun to be sitting down and watching the games on TV."
McGrady had a nightmarish outing against the Pacers on Nov. 22 (6-of-19, 13 points in a 36-point loss). But with Grant Hill again out, he has assumed an even more aggressive offensive posture out of necessity, increasing the challenge for Artest.
"He can do so much, you just have to be ready for everything he throws at you," Artest said. "The most I can do is to try to contain him. If he starts hitting jump shots, that's going to be a big problem because he can get on fire and it's tough to stop him."
The Pacers have played five consecutive games decided by three points or less (two that went to overtime), a remarkable stretch for a team that had just three such games in the first 30.
Orlando has dropped three of four and is once again facing the prospect of finishing a season without Hill, who leads the team in rebounding, is second in assists and third in scoring. He has missed the last six games while resting his balky left ankle. He has participated in three-on-three scrimmages this week and there is some hope he could return either tonight or Sunday against Philadelphia.
Ron Mercer has averaged 14.5 points on .538 shooting in the last two games. ... Brad Miller has eight double-doubles in the last 11 games, averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting .594 from the field in that span. ... Reggie Miller has averaged 18.5 points on .538 shooting in the last two. ... Jamaal Tinsley has gone 5-of-10 from the arc in the last four games.
Darrell Armstrong has averaged 13.7 points on .500 shooting overall and .583 from the arc (7-of-12) in the last three. ... Pat Garrity has shot .444 from the arc (12-of-27) in the last five.
Jeff Foster has totaled 34 minutes, eight points and 10 rebounds in the last six . ... The team has been outrebounded in five of the last six games after going 21-7-1 on the boards through the first 29.
Shawn Kemp has averaged 3.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in the last five. ... McGrady has shot .388 overall in the last two and .222 from the arc (4-of-18) in the last three. ... Mike Miller has shot .349 overall and .286 from the arc (4-of-14) in the last four. ... The offense has averaged 84.3 points in the last three losses.
Small forward -
McGrady was 6-of-19 and scored 13 points in his first matchup with Ron Artest as the Pacers racked up a 36-point victory at Conseco Fieldhouse on Nov. 22. Fatigue was certainly a factor, as it was the sixth consecutive road game for the Magic. It definitely won't be for Artest this time around, since this will be his first game in a week. While McGrady has struggled against the Pacers in Conseco Fieldhouse, averaging 12.3 points on .280 shooting in the last three games here, he has been his normal self in Orlando, averaging 26.5 points on .571 shooting last season.
F Austin Croshere (ribs) and G Jamison Brewer (R calf) are on the injured list.
F Grant Hill (L ankle) is day-to-day; C Steven Hunter (R knee) is on the injured list.