Carlisle devises 26th and final(?) lineup
By Mike Wells
Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has settled on the starting lineup he plans to use the rest of the season.
Carlisle is replacing Anthony Johnson and David Harrison with Jamaal Tinsley and Jermaine O'Neal.
"With 15 games left, we have to get to the group we feel can make a run," Carlisle said Saturday afternoon.
Tinsley and O'Neal will join Stephen Jackson, Peja Stojakovic and Jeff Foster in the starting lineup. The Pacers' key bench players will be Johnson, Danny Granger and Harrison. The switch will give the Pacers their 26th starting lineup this season. They host the Philadelphia 76ers this afternoon at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Carlisle made the switch during a time when the Pacers are trying not only to lock up a playoff spot but also to make one last run at Cleveland for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Pacers trail the Cavaliers by five games with 15 to play.
O'Neal's return to the starting lineup is expected today. He talked after Friday's loss to Detroit about getting back into the lineup because it would allow him to more quickly find his rhythm.
"I have to find a way to get some easy baskets early, rather than having to take a bulk of shots to get a rhythm," he said. "Every game for this team is very, very important. Especially for me, it's important because I'm a big part of what this team does. I have to really pick my play up and make plays."
O'Neal averaged 12 points, 6.5 rebounds and 27 minutes in two games after being out 24 games with a torn left groin. He shot 36 percent from the field and 50 percent from the foul line in those two games.
"He's done a lot of good things, considering the amount of time he's been out," Carlisle said. "But also, you can tell there's an adjustment period here. This is going to take some time to get to full strength."
Tinsley, who has played only 33 games this season, will make his first start since Jan. 24. He's been coming off the bench since returning from a right elbow injury March 7.
Johnson will go to the bench after starting 44 games this season, during which he averaged 11 points and five assists. (In 21 starts this season, Tinsley has averaged 10.8 points and five assists.)
With Fred Jones out with a thumb injury, the Pacers will go with a three-man rotation in the backcourt. Johnson will back up Tinsley at point guard and Jackson at shooting guard.
"It's something I talked to A.J. about," Carlisle said about replacing Johnson with Tinsley. "At some point it was probably going to be time to make that switch. A.J. has been great about communicating back with me about it. Jermaine and Tinsley need to be together in the starting lineup on both ends of the floor."