Bender returns to the lineup
Often-injured forward expects to play today and Sunday during summer league.
By Mark Montieth
Experience has taught the Indiana Pacers to be wary of positive reports about Jonathan Bender's health.
If the latest word is accurate, however, Bender will be in the starting lineup today when the Pacers' summer league team opens play in Minneapolis.
The Pacers will play Houston at 3 p.m. at the Target Center. Minnesota, Milwaukee, New York and Toronto also have entered teams.
Bender, the fifth pick in the 1999 draft, has played in just 74 games the past three seasons because of assorted injuries.
He did not participate in summer league practices this week, working instead with therapist Dan Dyrek in Boston. The Pacers, however, believe Bender is ready for limited game action and plan to play him today and Sunday.
"We'll see how it goes," said assistant coach Dan Burke, who will direct the Pacers' team. "As long as he's strong and feeling good, we'll give him a good look."
The Pacers have heard that Bender recently played without pain in a game at former NBA guard Kenny Smith's camp.
"You always hear that kind of stuff in the summer," Burke said. "We'll wait and see."
Chris Thomas has a long way to go to prove he's ready for the NBA, but he didn't falter in his initial steps.
The former Pike High School and Notre Dame point guard was among the free agents who made a positive impression in the Pacers' practices at Conseco Fieldhouse this week, and he will start today.
"Each day he's looked better as far as making decisions and being a leader," Burke said. "And it looks like he can really shoot."
Thomas will be joined in the starting lineup by shooting guard Maurice Carter, Bender, Ron Artest and last year's first-round draft pick, David Harrison.
Vets get preference
Summer league rosters usually don't include veterans such as Artest and Bender, but the Pacers made exceptions.
Artest is trying to regain his conditioning and timing after missing the final 73 games of last season because of a suspension. Bender is trying to rehabilitate injuries that kept him out of all but seven games last season.
They'll be the primary focus of the Pacers' attention, along with Harrison.
"Our focus has to be our guys," Burke said. "That's not saying they have to get every shot, though. I hope they play within the team framework. It's not about Ron or Jonathan playing 40 minutes or getting 50 points."
Artest's primary interest will be to test himself against the highly regarded rookies coming into the league. Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut, the first overall pick in last month's draft, is scheduled to participate, along with notables such as Channing Frye and Nate Robinson (New York) and Luther Head (Houston). Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham (both with Toronto) and Rashad McCants (Minnesota) are expected to sit out with injuries.
"The last couple of years, the rookies coming into the league have been pretty good," Artest said. "LeBron James, Amare (Stoudemire), (Emeka) Okafor . . . I want to play with guys who are really, really hungry. The young guys are really, really hungry these days."
Today and Sunday! This is about the third different way I've read how Bender is going to play in games. I really don't think they know what the heck they are doing where Bender is concerned!