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Will Galen
10-03-2004, 06:44 AM
October 3, 2004

The Pacers fell short in the Eastern Conference finals last season, losing to Detroit in six games. The Pistons have retained their starting lineup and made offseason moves that appear to strengthen their bench. Miami, which lost to the Pacers in the Eastern semifinals, has added Shaquille O'Neal, and looms as a threat.

Clearly, the Pacers will have to address some questions if they are to take the extra step into the NBA Finals this season.

Such as:

1. Can Jonathan Bender deliver on his promise?

He was the fifth overall pick in the 1999 draft, but his injuries and the team's depth have prevented him from getting consistent minutes. The trade of Al Harrington should allow that to happen -- finally -- and he could have a great impact. Still, the Pacers have other options at small forward.

2. Can they get more out of their backcourt?

Jamaal Tinsley (pictured below) and Reggie Miller combined to form the NBA's lowest-scoring backcourt last season. That's a little deceiving because the offense was directed through the low post, but it would help to strike a better balance. Tinsley has improved his shooting and Miller's percentages were in line with his career norms last season. The addition of Stephen Jackson should help the cause. The greater concern is how well the backcourt can defend.

3. Can Tinsley stay healthy?

Tinsley won over coach Rick Carlisle last season, and the starting point guard position appears to be his to lose for years to come. His shooting and playmaking have improved each season and his style of play is a good fit for this team. But he has been healthy throughout the postseason in just one of his three seasons. The Pacers can't have great success without him.

4. Can Jeff Foster become a jump-shooter?

The Pacers center is an outstanding rebounder, a solid defender and entirely unselfish. But it would do wonders for the offense if he could hit midrange jump shots with some consistency and take pressure off Jermaine O'Neal. He has worked on it, so they'll have to give him a green light and stick with him long enough to gain confidence.

5. Will individual concerns smother team potential?

Last season was something of a honeymoon, with a new coaching staff taking over a team stung by three consecutive first-round playoff exits. This team is coming off a season that set a franchise record for wins (61) and brought individual recognition for O'Neal and Ron Artest. Other players who accepted minor roles last season might be less inclined to do so this time. The potential for complacency, selfishness and internal issues is greater this time around.