ARTEST DOUBTFUL WITH SORE WRIST
Slumping Pacers Ponder Changes
By Conrad Brunner | Dec. 7, 2005
After the Pacers lost their second in a row and third in four games 84-75 to Dallas Tuesday night, Coach Rick Carlisle indicated a shakeup might be coming.
"We may be at a point where we need to make some changes; we may not," he said. "That's a judgment I'll have to make."
There may be one new face in the lineup tomorrow night when the Pacers face the Washington Wizards in Conseco Fieldhouse but the change won't be by choice. Ron Artest missed practice Wednesday with recurring pain in his right wrist and is listed as doubtful, so there will be a different look at small forward.
"I'm not sure who's going to be starting in that position, but there will be a change," said Carlisle after Wednesday's light workout. "Right now, when you lose a guy like Artest, it limits what you could do otherwise."
Despite the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers have battled dramatic inconsistency. They've been good enough to beat Miami twice and snap Cleveland's eight-game winning streak, but bad enough to lose by 32 in Charlotte, blow a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in Milwaukee and drop a home decision to lowly Atlanta.
The defense has allowed 103.1 points in losses, compared to 82.5 in victories. On nights when the defense has been solid, the offense has gone south, as in the losses to the Hawks and Mavericks.
The common threads through all of the problems have been effort and cohesiveness, and the lack thereof has been frustrating. Jermaine O'Neal even broached the topic of making structural changes to the roster if things don't turn around quickly and completely.
"You go home and you have many sleepless nights trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with this team," said O'Neal. "And it's personal. If any player in this locker room doesn't take it personally, they shouldn't be here. If that doesn't bother them every single day then they should not be here. It makes me sick to death.
"We're playing like we have no cause. If we're going to have no cause, then maybe ultimately management needs to think about re-tooling this team. Whoever they feel like is not giving the best effort, maybe it's just putting some guys together who're going to give a better effort. That's from me on down. It's early, but we're growing bad habits."
Injuries also are a problem. Jamaal Tinsley did not practice and isn't expected to play for the fourth game in a row Thursday night due to a strained thigh and groin. Austin Croshere should return after missing one game with a lower abdominal strain and one to be with his wife for the birth of their second child, a son, Tuesday night. O'Neal will play with a dislocated pinky finger on his left hand, an injury incurred Tuesday night.
"I don't know if there's anything more disappointing to be a part of than a team that's underachieving," Croshere said. "It's one thing to lose games and not have a lot of talent like we did last year. In a lot of regards, we overachieved last year. It was something you could take a lot of pride in being a part of. This team, it's not that we're 10-7 and we're winning and losing games by playing the same way, and we're a 10-7 team. We're playing great basketball and we're playing horrible basketball and we're doing it differently from night to night. It's frustrating for everybody."
O'Neal clearly is feeling the full weight of the emotional burden. Though he warned the media he had little to say after exiting the locker room Wednesday, once he began talking, he couldn't contain his emotion or his frustration.
"We're a very poor team right now," he said. "I apologize to the fans and the people that pay good money to come and watch us. It's a shame they have to see things like this. Hopefully tomorrow we can respond and respond in a major way.
"We feel like we have enough guys to play with whoever's out there. Talent doesn't always win games. It does help, but effort wins all the time. You'd rather lose playing your best game with everybody giving 110 percent. But we've been playing with the off-and-on switch all year and that burden rests on everybody's back. It's almost mind-boggling to a point."
NOTES: Artest has gone 7-of-32 (21.9 percent) from the 3-point in his last 11 games and 15-of-32 (46.9 percent) from the free-throw line in the last six, but he has averaged 3.8 steals in the last five. Stephen Jackson has averaged 10.4 points on 35.6 percent shooting overall and 17.9 percent from the arc in the last seven. Sarunas Jasikevicius has averaged 13.0 points and 4.0 assists while shooting 55 percent from the field in three starts filling in for Tinsley at the point. He also has made 19 consecutive free throws Fred Jones has averaged 8.6 points on 50 percent shooting in the last five. O'Neal has five consecutive games of at least 20 points and seven double-doubles in the last 10. The Pacers are 1-3 when Tinsley does not play and 1-4 when he does not start. The Pacers have been outrebounded by an average margin of 8.7 in their last six losses.