INDIANAPOLIS - Advantage, big brother.

Brandon Rush, the Indiana Pacers' rookie, conceded that much to older brother Kareem, 28. Brandon, 23, said it wasn't until "about 3 years ago, out in Los Angeles," that he was able to defeat Kareem, now with the 76ers, one-on-one.

"I beat him a couple of times, back-to-back," Brandon recalled. "I was talking big stuff to him when I did it. He took it pretty good. After the two games I won, he came back and beat me the rest of the day. I guess it got to my head pretty quick."

Asked who would win now in that venue, Kareem said "Me. I'm older. I've got the older brother complex."

The brothers have played against each other in the backyard, in pickup games. But not in an organized setting like the one they'll be in tonight. They'll be lined up against each other, although it remains to be seen whether they'll guard each other, when the Sixers face the Pacers in Conseco Field House.

(Full disclosure: It also remains to be seen whether Kareem gets on the court at all. He did not play in Wednesday night's 106-96 victory in Toronto.)

But . . .

"It's exciting," said Kareem, who spent last season with the Pacers, then joined the Sixers as a free agent. "My whole family is going to be there. It's going to be a moment."

This isn't something that can happen a whole lot in the NBA, although the league shows four other sets of brothers: Pau (Lakers) and Marc (Memphis Grizzlies) Gasol, Jason (Grizzlies) and Jarron (Utah Jazz) Collins, Joey (Toronto Raptors) and Stephen (Pacers) Graham, twins Brook (N.J. Nets) and Robin (Phoenix Suns) Lopez.

Brandon won an NCAA championship at Kansas, and is considered a more versatile player. Kareem starred at Missouri, and is the better shooter. Another brother, JaRon, played at UCLA and was viewed as a raw talent with a pro future, but was sidetracked by personal problems.

The best of the three?

"I would have to say it would have been JaRon if he would have kept his head on straight," Brandon said. "He was real athletic, he could shoot the ball, put it on the floor; [he was] strong."

Kareem didn't choose a "best," but said: "[Brandon's] a combination of me and JaRon, a lot more athletic than I am. JaRon was just raw athletic. I've been a shooter all my life. Brandon's going to have a chance to be a good player in this league. He defends well, he shoots, dribbles, is more all-around."

There is also respect from the youngest brother.

"I was looking up to [Kareem] before he got to the NBA," Brandon said. "That was my inspiration to play basketball, watching him do it on the court."

But . . . Brandon likes to say he was drafted earlier (No. 13, by Portland) than Kareem (No. 20, by the Raptors in 2002).

"I also got him on winning the national championship," Brandon said. "I brag about that to him."

None of the Rush brothers has had an easy time.

JaRon was an All-American at UCLA, playing with Baron Davis and Jerome Moiso, but wasn't drafted, drifting to the minor leagues, then out of the game.

Kareem was drafted by the Raptors and immediately traded to the Lakers, then moved to the Charlotte Bobcats. He signed with the then-Seattle SuperSonics, suffered a groin injury and ended up spending a season in Lithuania before coming back to the Pacers, for whom he hit a career-best 102 three-pointers.

"I don't look at my time in Lithuania as a bad thing," Kareem said. "I could have easily waited around; I felt I would have made the Seattle team. People have their ups and downs. It's the story of life. It turned out to be good for me."

Brandon was the first freshman to lead the Kansas in scoring and rebounding and was equally the first Jayhawk freshman to be named to the All-Big 12 first team. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a pickup game as a sophomore.

Tonight, either the Sixers or the Pacers will win. But either way, the Rush brothers can't lose. *

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