View Full Version : NBCSports: Suspensions doom Pacers' title hopes

11-23-2004, 04:38 PM
Suspensions doom Pacers' title hopes
Indiana has -- ahem -- fighting chance to earn No. 7 or 8 seed

By Michael Ventre
NBCSports.com contributor
Updated: 2:18 p.m. ET Nov. 22, 2004

Name a current Indiana Pacer.

Go ahead. I dare you. Name one.

Ron Artest? Well, not exactly. He’s gone for the season after Brawlgate.

Stephen Jackson? He’s out for the next 30 games, also because of the fisticuffs.

Jermaine O’Neal? Done for the next 25. Same reason.

Anthony Johnson? Ordinarily, you would get extra credit for pulling that name out of the air, and perhaps even the presidency of the Pacers’ fan club. But alas, he’s out too, for five games. More residue of the ruckus.

Now you’re probably thinking, “OK, at least give me Reggie Miller. Reggie is a Pacer through and through. Gotta be Reggie.” Technically, Reggie isn’t a Pacer, at least for one game. Apparently his offense was wearing a tie that didn’t match his suit while attempting to restore order.

When it comes to identifying Pacers, you may need help from the sleuths at “CSI: Indianapolis,” because right now they are hideously disfigured and unrecognizable.

Poor coach Rick Carlisle. One minute he’s looking at a championship contender, the next he’s interviewing grief counselors. In the time it takes to toss a cup of beer, the Pacers went from near the top of the NBA’s Eastern elite down to the wretched refuse, right down there with the Bulls.

This isn’t a team anymore, it’s a leper colony.

The stars of the club now are Austin Croshere, Fred Jones, James Jones and rookies David Harrison and John Edwards. If you were wondering what John Edwards did after the election, now you know.

Their first effort out of the box with the new configuration resulted in an 86-83 loss to visiting Orlando on Saturday night. Under the circumstances, the governor of Indiana should have proclaimed it “Pacers Day” and given everybody a paid holiday, because a three-point loss to the Magic is cause for mass jubilation compared to what’s down the road.

If you think the Pacers will be just fine when they get Reggie and Anthony Johnson back, it might be time to ask your shrink to up the dosage.

It’s an exercise in futility to examine the current roster and determine where the Pacers are deficient. The team has been eviscerated. No matter whom you hold responsible for the fight itself, you’ll have to admit that, fair or unfair, NBA commissioner David Stern has removed the Pacers from the ranks of the competitive with the penalties he laid down.

In college sports, the NCAA sometimes hands down a “death sentence” to member schools who run afoul of the rules. This is as close as the NBA gets to that.

Artest isn’t just a head case. He was the Pacers’ leading scorer, averaging 24.6 points along with 6.4 rebounds. He’s finished for the season, presumably.

O’Neal, an annual MVP candidate, is the club’s second-leading scorer at 22.6 points per game and its leading rebounder at 9.6 per. He won’t be back until mid-January.

Jackson was the Pacers’ third-leading scorer at 15.3. He’ll return around late January.

Indiana is not bereft of talent. Guard Jamaal Tinsley, averaging 9.8 points and 8.3 rebounds, has been nursing a sore wrist, but will be back Tuesday. Jonathan Bender is gifted, but has a chronically sore knee. Scot Pollard is a body.

But when you remove a team’s top three players for an extended period during the regular season, you might as well stick a giant fork in them, like Stern did.

There is a shred of hope, however. Just a tiny shard. A morsel, even.

This is, after all, the Eastern Conference we’re talking about. That means even if you’re in the midst of an awful, hopeless season, you’re still in the playoff hunt.

The Pacers, currently 7-3 and atop the Central Division, would have to tread water furiously between now and the time they get O’Neal and Jackson back to keep from hitting rock bottom. That’s an incredibly tall order, but strange things happen in the NBA, especially when a team is written off and its manhood is challenged.

Then the Pacers would have to play the best basketball of their lives when the prodigal sons (sans Artest) return. Logic suggests that will be brutally difficult after such a long respite, but it could happen.

By losing Artest, the Pacers lose their defensive heart. He was one of the best one-on-one defenders in the game, but his grit and competitiveness set the tone for his mates. That team will not only miss his individual contributions, but also the mindset that he established for every game.

In his absence, O’Neal and Jackson – when they return – will have to provide even more leadership than usual.

The possibility also exists that the suspensions could be reduced. The Players Association, as well as agents for the key combatants, have all indicated they will vigorously contest Stern’s punishments. If they succeed, if Artest’s suspension is shortened and he can return sometime during the season, and if the sentences handed out to O’Neal and Jackson are cut from 25 and 30, respectively, down to something much less severe, that will give Pacers’ fans a sunnier outlook.

Of course, you know what all this means, don’t you?

Whereas the Pacers were (excuse the choice of words here) fighting for the No. 1 perch in the East, now they’re more likely to be looking at sneaking into the playoff bracket from the bottom, around No. 7 or No. 8 – assuming the suspensions stand.

And that could mean a first-round playoff matchup against the Detroit Pistons.

That could be interesting.

Michael Ventre writes regularly for NBCSports.com and is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6558761/

11-23-2004, 04:46 PM
Wow! Hehehe, I didn't know Tins was such a good rebounder!!!



11-23-2004, 07:53 PM
We can only pray for a first round matchup with the Pistons. Please Lord, let this happen.

11-23-2004, 08:33 PM
If anyone feels that this team cannot contend with the rest of the EAST, they got another thing coming to them this playoffs.

Winning the title is another thing, but this playoffs can look a lot like the year the Knicks made it to the championship, Injuries replacing suspensions of course.

Winning it all may be a dream rite now, as Artest is still a huge piece of the puzzle missing, and beating Miami is even a tough order (yet possible) but I will say that with the talent remaining and the extra chip on their shoulders, this team can take Detroit in a 7 game series, even without HC advantage. Foster, JO, Jackson, Reggie and Tins is still a very tough squad to beat with a LOT of playoff experience.