J.O's 55 points is NBA season high

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How bad did the Pacers miss J.O.? He has been on fire since returning from his suspension. He average close to 30 points and 10 boards a game in his five games back.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Jermaine O'Neal got exactly what he wanted on Tuesday night, and it had nothing to do with scoring a career- and NBA season-high 55 points.

O'Neal's dominating performance delivered the Indiana Pacers' fourth win in a row, a 116-99 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The All-Star has made an immediate impact since an arbitrator reduced his 25-game suspension for fighting with Detroit fans to 15 games, with Indiana going 4-1.

"What I'm happy about is we've won four in a row," said O'Neal, who also had 11 rebounds. "I tip my hat off to my team. They put me in position, that's what this team is all about."

O'Neal's 55 bested Allen Iverson's 54 points on Dec. 18, also against the Bucks. In his five games back, O'Neal is averaging 29.4 points and 10.6 rebounds to help the Pacers dig out from a rough December that included a seven-game losing streak.

He shot 18-for-28 from the field and 19-of-25 from the line, just missing George McGinnis' franchise record of 58 points, set while the Pacers were in the ABA in 1972. O'Neal's 25 free throw attempts were a franchise record.

"It just was one of those wonderfully enchanting nights for our team and for him," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.

An exhausted O'Neal left the game to a standing ovation with 1:43 remaining.

It almost wasn't enough against the balanced Bucks.

"If he hadn't scored over 50, we probably wouldn't have beaten these guys," Carlisle said. "That's how tough they are."

Desmond Mason scored 21 points to lead five Bucks in double figures. Michael Redd added 19 points and Mike James scored 15.

That O'Neal's monster night came against the Bucks should come as no surprise.

In addition to the big games by O'Neal and Iverson, the Bucks have allowed 42 points by Tracy McGrady, 40 by Iverson six days before he scored 54, and 39 by Dirk Nowitzki on Sunday.

"It's just really embarrassing to have career-high night every night we play somebody," Redd said.

Milwaukee hung with O'Neal by getting to the free throw line. The Bucks hit 18 of 20 free throws in the first half and shot 52 percent from the floor to trail 55-52 at halftime.

Erick Strickland's jumper pulled the Bucks within two with just under nine minutes to play, but that was as close as they would get.

O'Neal scored eight points during a 17-6 run that allowed the Pacers to pull away and win their fourth game in a row.

"They kept going to the horse," Redd said. "He just kept killing us."

Jamaal Tinsley had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and Jeff Foster added 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Pacers.

But the night belonged to O'Neal from the opening tip. He scored the Pacers' first 14 points en route to 29 in the first half, dominating a Bucks' front line that lost center Dan Gadzuric to back spasms in the first quarter.

"For the most part, it was the Jermaine O'Neal show," Redd said.

He scored at will and from all over the court, draining 15-foot jumpers and turnarounds from the baseline and throwing down explosive dunks. And when the shots didn't fall, more often than not O'Neal found himself on the free-throw line after blazing past overwhelmed Bucks defenders.

The highlight of the performance came in the third quarter when O'Neal took the ball on the low block, bulled over Joe Smith and dunked to start a 15-4 run and help Indiana take control.

He scored 19 points in the first, 10 in the second, 18 in the third quarter and capped his stellar night with eight in the fourth to hold off the Bucks.

It took O'Neal less than three quarters to surpass his previous career-high of 39 points set on Nov. 12 against Philadelphia.

"I'm going to take this box score home and put it up for my daughter or any other future kids," O'Neal said. "I'll say, 'This is one of daddy's first 50-plus games." ^Notes:@ Reggie Miller scored 57 against Charlotte in 1992 for the team's NBA record. ... It wasn't the first time a Pacers player scored 19 points in a quarter against the Bucks this season. Miller scored 19 in the fourth quarter on Dec. 7. ... Mo Williams was assessed a flagrant foul in the third quarter when he fouled Tinsley on a breakaway. The two tangled briefly, but officials stepped in to prevent a fight. ... It was the 16th time the Bucks allowed more than 100 points. They fell to 2-14 in those games.

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