October 13, 2005
Aggressive Bender offers Pacers hope
By Mike Wells
You expected more excitement from the voice on the other end of the phone.
Indiana Pacers forward Jonathan Bender was less than 24 hours removed from scoring 13 points, including attempting a game-high 14 free throws, in the preseason opener against the New Jersey Nets.
More encouraging was the manner in which he scored -- on aggressive drives to the basket that drew fouls. Drives that showed his right knee is OK.
Ecstatic? Elated? Not Bender. Not yet. Not after what he has endured the past three seasons.
"There's no reason to get excited about it because it was just one game," Bender said Wednesday. "I'm not surprised at how I played because that's how I played in the summer."
Others might have done a double take at his opening act.
It certainly didn't look like the same Jonathan Bender who has played a total of 74 games the past three seasons because of an assortment of injuries. Bender said his knee was "a little sore when I woke up, but that's expected."
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said the plan is to play Bender at the power forward position because "it gives him a quickness advantage."
Bender said his objective is to get to the rim.
"My goal is to play as aggressive as I can," he said. "In the past, I would get in games and play more like a robot; just run to the spot where I need to be at on the court, not looking at every option. If I've got a big guy on me that isn't as quick, I'm going to put the ball on the ground and go by him."
His play Tuesday certainly didn't surprise his teammates. Bender, the No. 5 pick in the 1999 draft, has been doing that throughout training camp.
"Jonathan's amazing," guard Stephen Jackson said last week. "To see him out there running and jumping, he looks like the old Jonathan Bender -- the high school Jonathan Bender."
Bender, of course, has heard that praise almost every preseason.
He knows every compliment comes with a concern about his health.
"I'm not worried about what people think," he said. "I'm just out here to play my game and help my team."
Carlisle said forward Jermaine O'Neal (thigh) might play tonight against Utah. Rookie Danny Granger (ankle) is doubtful and David Harrison (side pain) and Jeff Foster (Achilles tendon) are out.
There is some concern that Foster might not be ready for the regular-season opener Nov. 2 at Orlando. He has not participated in contact drills in practice.
"It's hard to say," Carlisle said. "We still believe he'll be ready for Nov. 2, but right now it's hard to put an exact date on his return. We're trying not to take any unnecessary risks with him."
Jonathan Bender has struggled with injuries throughout his career. In the preseason opener Tuesday, the 24-year-old forward showed glimpses, again, of what he can do when healthy.
Year G Min. FG-A Pct. RPG PPG 1999-2000 24 130 23-70 .329 0.9 2.7 2000-01 59 574 66-186 .355 1.3 3.3 2001-02 78 1,647 198-460 .430 3.1 7.4 2002-03 46 819 112-254 .441 2.9 6.6 2003-04 21 271 50-106 .472 1.9 7.0 2004-05 7 93 16-40 .400 2.0 5.1 Tuesday 1 16 1-5 .200 1 13
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