for this game

Granger, Pacers cruise past hapless Heat

Apr 1, 2008 - 4:00 AM INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- With Jermaine O'Neal returning to the lineup, the Indiana Pacers had more than enough firepower to defeat the league's worst team.

Danny Granger scored 23 points and Mike Dunleavy added 18 as the Pacers posted an easy 105-85 victory over the lowly Miami Heat on Monday.

Granger scored 16 of his points in the second half and was 7-of-17 from the floor, including 4-of-7 from the arc.

"A few of their guys I had never heard of," Granger said. "But that's the kind of team you have to be really careful of because they're coming in, playing hard. Those guys are playing for jobs. I'm glad we took care of business and got the win."

The win keeps the Pacers' slim playoff hopes alive as they remain three games back of the Atlanta Hawks (34-40) for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks defeated the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.

"We put ourselves in position where we're probably going to have to win out and get some help along the way," O'Neal said. "It's a tough challenge, but it's a challenge we're going to have to accept if we want to get into the postseason."

The game marked the return of six-time All-Star O'Neal, who had missed the previous 33 games with a sore left knee. O'Neal scored nine points on 3-of-4 shooting off the bench.

"His presence on both ends of the court is huge. That can't ever go overlooked," Dunleavy said of O'Neal. "You just know he's back there on defense, and offensively he's such a big skilled guy down low. You notice his passing, you notice his finishing. When he's healthy, he's pretty good."

After the game, O'Neal said his knee felt good.

"I think I'm definitely past that stage as far as being able to say, 'OK, I'm going to play this game and then sit the next game,'" O'Neal said. "That was the whole key of me sitting out for 33 games, to get over that stage and be comfortable with playing."

O'Neal played just 17 minutes but not much support was needed from the Pacers big man to dispose of the hapless Heat.

Dunleavy made a pair of free throws at the end of the first quarter to give Indiana a two-point lead, and the Pacers never trailed again.

Indiana stretched the advantage to eight at the break and used a 12-4 run midway through the third quarter to take a 68-54 lead with 4:58 remaining in the quarter. Granger had eight points during the burst.

The Pacers maintained their double-digit lead for the rest of the contest, holding a 13-point lead after the third quarter and erased any hopes of a comeback by opening the fourth on an 8-2 run to take an 86-67 bulge with 8:40 left to play.

"They're a team that still has some life in the playoff hunt, and they jumped on us pretty good in the second half and we could never recover," Heat coach Pat Riley said.

"We just don't have enough firepower. We don't have anybody to throw it to down in the post on a regular basis, so we're taking a lot of jumpers and, if they're not going in, then most of the time they're going the other way in transition."

Rookie Daequan Cook scored 16 points to lead the Heat, who lost their fourth straight game but topped the 70-point mark for the first time in three contests.

"We're in no race for the playoffs, so all we can do is get better every time we step on the court, stay focused and try to get ready for next year," Cook said.

Miami, which committed 21 turnovers in the game, had set the NBA record with 17 made field goals against Boston in a loss on Sunday. The Heat were 28-of-67 (42 percent) against the Pacers.

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