From the Indianpolis Star’s Mark Montieth :

The Indiana Pacers would like to put last week’s controversy surrounding Ron Artest behind them. But it’s not easy when the questions persist.

An ESPN reporter and cameraman attended Wednesday’s game against Atlanta and Thursday’s practice to gather information for an “Outside the Lines” feature next week.

The questions were familiar and stale to a team that endured a firestorm when Artest was benched for two games after asking for time off.

How did the team deal with the distraction? What kind of teammate is he? Were any lessons learned?

Artest smiled his way through the interview after Wednesday’s game, admitting he can be difficult but stating he loves playing for the Pacers and wanted to focus on the good things. He tossed in a few more promos for the upcoming release of the recording he produced for his group, Allure.

Stephen Jackson complained about the line of questioning in the background. Jermaine O’Neal showed more frustration.

“What do you want me to say?” O’Neal said. “You guys keep digging, digging, digging. How about you guys report that we’ve played with seven guys all year? Nobody’s talking about Indiana. But we’re 6-2. Why don’t you guys report that we’re playing with six of our main guys out? Let’s talk about the Indiana Pacers as an elite team, a team to be reckoned with.”

The Pacers declared Artest off-limits Thursday. His teammates and coach Rick Carlisle faced questions instead, stating generally that they’ve moved on and Artest remains a respected team member.

(the elite Jermain O’Neal plowing into the remarkably uninjured Antonio McDyess)

(Update: Make that the 7-2 Pacers, following tonight’s convincing 97-82 beat down of the defending champion Pistons. Ron Artest, with help from Stephen Jackson, continued to enhance his reputation as the Face Of The NBA by fighting with Detroit fans at the end of the game after being being pelted with garbage.

Said scuffles were provoked by Artest taking out Ben Wallace on a layup attempt and the latter punching the former. Happy stuff and terrific fodder for columnists and radio screamers nationwide who are already committed to running Artest out of the league. )