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Commentary: Pacers' hopes still alive despite season's turmoil
By Chris Perkins
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 03, 2005
It would be easy for the Indiana Pacers to pause and reflect on what they've been through this season.
The Fight. The suspensions. The injuries. The bomb scares.
Coach Rick Carlisle said people have compared the Pacers' plight to going into sword fight with a spoon.
That might be a bit of an exaggeration (do you really think Indiana is that well-armed?), but it's not a bad image of what the maligned Pacers continue to face as they struggle to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
In this situation, the occasional pity party would certainly be understandable.
But it hasn't been that way for Indiana all season.
Led by 39-year-old guard Reggie Miller, the Pacers have molded a group that includes the temperamental Stephen Jackson, Fred Jones, Anthony Johnson, Austin Croshere, Dale Davis, James Jones, John Edwards, Scot Pollard, Eddie Gill and Jeff Foster.
If you read one or two of those names in a questioning voice, you're not alone.
That's why Indiana, not Phoenix, Seattle or Washington, has been the NBA's most surprising team this season.
Let's face it, life hasn't been kind to the Pacers the past few months. They've had more than their share of problems, some self-inflicted, others by chance.
Through it all, Indiana, which had a league-best 61 wins last season, has maintained one thought.
"It's on us to take care of our own business," Johnson said.
Talk about a reality check.
You know the hit list of the Pacers' afflictions.
You know All-Star forwards Ron Artest (suspension) and Jermaine O'Neal (shoulder) are out for the season. You know point guard Jamaal Tinsley has been sidelined with a foot problem. You know the Pacers have used 28 different starting lineups.
You also know this team should be chum in the shark-infested NBA waters.
This is a team that started the season with legitimate title aspirations. In reality those title hopes were dashed on Nov. 19. A single plastic cup thrown at Artest by some yahoo in the stands at Detroit's Palace at Auburn Hills was the catalyst.
Surprisingly, the Pacers succeeded without Artest, the defensive player of the year last season.
More surprisingly, the Pacers are still having success. In the past two weeks, they beat San Antonio, Detroit and Miami.
"What we have to do," Davis said, "is focus in on the rest of the season, play tough defense game-in and game-out, not watch the standings too much, and play whoever and whenever we have to."
The Pacers — thanks mainly to Carlisle and Miller — have kept plugging away.
And now it looks as though they just might make the playoffs after all.
Indiana is almost the same distance from the No. 6 seed as it is to finishing No. 9 and missing the playoffs.
Miami, the likely No. 1 seed, probably hopes the Pacers don't end up No. 8, which would set up a first-round playoff matchup.
Indiana has beaten the Heat in 12 consecutive regular-season games, some with center Shaquille O'Neal in the Miami lineup, some without him, some at home, some on the road, some with Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Tinsley, some without.
The Heat would probably win a best-of-seven series against Indiana, but Miami would probably prefer not to have to prove it.
You never know with these Pacers.
"This will be a great playoff runs for us," Jackson vowed, "wherever and whoever we have to play."
QUESTIONS FOR SPIKE LEE
With Miller's Career Ending, What's a Courtside Foil to Do?
By LIZ ROBBINS
Published: April 3, 2005
pike Lee, the Brooklyn filmmaker and Knicks über-fan, has been Reggie Miller's courtside foil for the past decade, starting when the two traded taunts in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals between the Knicks and the Indiana Pacers.
Miller scored 25 of his 39 points in that quarter, winning the game for the Pacers. The Knicks went on to win the best-of-seven series, 4-3. Lee talked last week about his relationship with Miller.
Q. What do you admire about Miller?
A. Reggie, speaking as a film director, he is very dramatic and he plays to the crowd and he also loves to be the bad guy. He revels in that. If you look at his career, he probably did better on the road than at home. When you play your whole career in Indianapolis, that's not the Mecca of anything. Why not make a name for yourself, put your name in history? He did it the way players should do it - on the biggest stage. I always have respected his talent. He is one of the all-time great clutch shooters.
Q. Would you ever tell him he's over-acting?
A. No. Because it works. He's always been known as a flopper - he would do whatever he could do to get an edge. He's a wily veteran, he knows all the tricks, the ends, the ins and the outs.
Q. Did you ever feel he made it personal?
A. Yeah, the first time, the whole thing escalated because it was personal! He made that choking gesture and put his hands on his privates - that was personal. I forgot what he said; let's just say it was not the King's English. My wife, Tanya, was sitting next to me. Rita Ewing and Crystal Anthony were sitting behind us. It was just inappropriate. It was one of those "heat of the moment" things.
We're cool - we've always been. I never really had any lingering animosity. On the court, he was directing whatever venom he had towards me. He used it to his advantage. I'm sad that he's retiring. He's one of these guys who didn't hang around too long. He's still a very productive player and he could hang around longer if he wanted.
Q. You directed Miller in a commercial. Was he cooperative?
A. We had fun. The whole commercial was based on what happened in that playoff series. The gym was empty, and I was just getting on him. He came in and said, "Look, I'll do what I got to do, and then I got to go." That's like a lot of athletes.
Q. If you're coaching a team with clutch shooters - Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Miller - who takes the last shot?
A. I didn't really see Oscar until the last couple of years - I was too young. I can only go by people I saw. Michael would have to be No. 1, because he has more rings than those guys. How many finals has Reggie been to? All those other guys got rings, so he would be the end of that list.
Q. What was it like to be called out by Pat Riley, landing on the back page of the tabloids and blamed by fans for inciting Miller's scoring spree in Game 5 in 1994?
A. After the Knicks lost that game in the Garden and Game 6 was in Indy, no one thought the Knicks were going to win that game. That's when John Starks got crazy. After the game, before John ran off the court, he came all the way back over to me and gave me a hug. I was happier than the Knicks. If they lost, that would have been a long summer for me. And then in Game 7, when Patrick got the shot and chipped it in, after that game, Reggie gave me a hug.
Q. In 1996, when he was a free agent, Miller entertained the idea of playing for the Knicks. Could you imagine?
A. That was never going to happen. You think people don't like him now on the road? People would really hate him then! He would not be popular at all. Even though people knew Michael would hit the shot, they would cheer for him. They're not cheering for Reggie. I hope they give him an ovation. Even if begrudgingly, they should give the man an ovation.