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Updated: Thursday, April 17, 2003 12:21 AM EDT
NBA RECAP
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Indiana 90, New Jersey 83
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New Jersey Nets
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INDIANA PACERS
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INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- The Indiana Pacers were battling for third place in the Eastern Conference. Byron Scott elected for the New Jersey Nets not to put up an equal fight.

Jermaine O'Neal contributed 26 points and 10 rebounds and Al Harrington added 17, 12 and nine assists as the Pacers held off the Nets' reserves down the stretch in a 90-83 victory.

With the win, the Pacers (48-34) clinched the third seed in the East and will meet sixth-seeded Boston in the first round of the playoffs.

"Forty-eight wins is a hell of a lot of wins," O'Neal said. "Obviously, we wanted to win a lot more. We didn't, that's the way life is, (but) we are going to deal with what we have."

"These guys had every reason to quit and they kept on persevering, overcoming obstacles and stratched out 48 wins," Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said. "I'm very proud of them, very proud to be associated with them."

Philadelphia, which also finished at 48-34 but was beaten out for the third seed because it has a worse record against conference playoff teams, meets dangerous fifth seed New Orleans.

"We would much rather see Boston (than New Orleans or Philadelphia) in the first round," Harrington said. "We like that matchup a lot better."

"It doesn't matter who we play," said Indiana forward Ron Artest, who scored 16 points. "All we have to do is continue to play better, help each other out and go deep into these playoffs."

The Nets (49-33), who already had secured the Atlantic Division title and the second seed, will face seventh-seeded Milwaukee.

"They're a good team," Nets forward Kenyon Martin, who scored 11 points in 21 minutes, said of the Bucks. "They've got great outside shooters. We're going to have to be on top of our defensive game. It's a matchup of two great offensive teams. We have to get stops and rebound the ball."

The series will feature a matchup between arguably the NBA's two best point guards, New Jersey's Jason Kidd and his childhood friend and rival from Oakland, Gary Payton.

"He's one of the most talented point guards in the league," Kidd said of Payton. "If you can't get up for him, you don't belong in this league. It should be fun. It's a terrific matchup. Gary doesn't back down from anyone."

New Jersey trailed by just 63-60 entering the fourth quarter, but Scott chose to bench starters Kidd, Martin and Kerry Kittles to avoid risking injury, which would ruin their chances of returning to the NBA Finals.

The Nets took a 70-69 lead on a fast-break dunk by Anthony Johnson with 8:16 to play, but Harrington responded with a jumper with 7:52 left to give the Pacers the lead for good.

"I thought we played hard," Scott said. "The guys who haven't played a lot came in and did some good things."

Neither team shot the ball well. The Nets connected at just 44 percent (34-of-78) and the Pacers 41 percent (35-of-86), including 2-of-15 from the arc.

"It was game 82 and it looked like game 82," Thomas said.

Johnson scored 16 points and fellow reserve Aaron Williams chipped in 14 for New Jersey, which finished 16-25 on the road.

"We played well tonight, we played all right," Martin said. "The starters did not play a lot of minutes. The guys came off the bench and played well. Now it's time to get ready for the playoffs."


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