Sabonis scores career-high 30, Pacers beat Hornets 123-117

Domantas Sabonis had barely settled into his seat on the bench when coach Nate McMillan looked his way.

When Myles Turner picked up two early fouls, Sabonis was pressed into duty much earlier than usual.

“By the time my heat packs came I had to go in, and I was like, `Uh oh,” Sabonis said with a laugh.

But the 6-foot-10 forward from Lithuania responded with a career-high 30 points, helping the Indiana Pacers beat the Charlotte Hornets 123-117 on Sunday to keep alive their slim hopes of winning the Central Division title.

For Indiana (48-33) to win the Central and earn home-court advantage for the first round of the NBA playoffs, it needs to beat Charlotte on Tuesday night and have Cleveland (49-31) lose its final two games against the New York Knicks. The Pacers have the tiebreaker advantage over the Cavaliers after taking three of four in the season series, including a 124-107 win in November.

The Pacers jumped out to a 70-57 halftime lead after shooting 67 percent from the field, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range.

Charlotte rallied in the third quarter, but the Pacers took over and quickly built a 20-point lead even with Oladipo on the bench with four fouls.

And if I can get a first-round pick and another high choice, I’m sending him packing.

It’s never easy for a GM to trade an elite player. I understand that having made plenty of high-profile trades in my GM days. When Beckham is healthy, focused and on his game, he is one of the NFL’s best receivers. He averaged 96 catches, 1,374 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns per season over his first three years in the league before a broken ankle and the ensuing surgery cost him the final 12 games of last season.

But GMs, coaches and long-time owners such as John Mara also don’t like distractions, and Beckham is among the league leaders in headline-grabbing incidents on and off the field.

There was the infamous Miami boat trip prior to a playoff game in which he played poorly and then punched in a locker room wall. There have been selfish on-field battles with cornerback Josh Norman and fines for blind-side hits. There are obnoxious touchdown celebrations. There was last year’s ridiculous rant that he should be the NFL’s highest-paid player regardless of position, surpassing top quarterbacks.

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