Penny Hardaway's return to Orlando's starting five was a short one. Hardaway sustained a deep muscle bruise in his left calf late in the first quarter and Orlando's offense disappeared at the same time, resulting in an 85-66 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.
It was the fewest points allowed by Indiana since it joined the NBA in 1976. The previous mark was 68 set against the New York Knicks in the 1984 Eastern Conference finals and matched twice after that in the regular season. "I really didn't expect the effort we had," said Indiana coach Larry Bird, who was concerned over the layoff during the All-Star break. "I knew it was going to be a ragged game. We didn't shoot the ball well in practice yesterday and I knew it would carry to today."
Hardaway was making his first start in two months, having been on the injured list from Dec. 8 to Jan. 29 after having surgery on his left knee. "I think I came down on Travis' (Best) foot and I will be out a couple of days," said Hardaway, who went to the bench with 1:06 left in the first quarter and never returned. "I pulled a muscle in my calf, but it's unrelated to my knee. ... My knee feels great. But, things keep happening to us and I don't know why."
Indiana took control after Hardaway was injured and coasted to victory with reserves playing much of the fourth quarter. "After four days off we had a lot of bad passes in practice and we started the game like that," said Reggie Miller who had 16 points to share scoring honors with Rik Smits. "The juices started flowing and we got our legs under us in the second half ... and turned in a pretty good effort." Orlando shot only 34 percent (24-of-70) as it scored its second lowest total of the season. Nick Anderson topped Orlando with 16. Smits had eight straight points in a 13-5 run at the end of the first half that gave the Pacers a 41-34 lead at the break.
A Miller jumper ignited the run, giving Indiana a 30-29 lead with 3:41 left in the half. It was the 14th lead change of the half and the Pacers were never caught again.
Smits then had his run, starting with a dunk off a behind-the-back pass from Mark Jackson. The Indiana center then made a hook shot, a 17-foot jumper and a four-footer. Indiana, which shot 52 percent in the second quarter after a 29 percent effort in the first quarter, then took its biggest lead of the half as Chris Mullin hit a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left.
Miller scored nine points in the third quarter, which ended with the Pacers leading 65-48. Orlando never drew closer than 13 in the fourth period and the Pacers led by as many as 21 three times in the quarter. The victory was the seventh straight at home for the Pacers and their eighth triumph in their last nine games overall.
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