Carlisle: "We’ve Got A Lot Of Work To Do"
By Conrad Brunner | Oct. 27, 2006
Given the last two performances, the best that can be said about the Pacers' preseason is that it's over.
Committing 61 turnovers and allowing 223 points in consecutive losses to Charlotte and Utah left the Pacers with a 3-5 record and plenty of areas for Coach Rick Carlisle and his staff to address in the four days of practice remaining before the regular season opens Wednesday Charlotte.
For Carlisle, the key is not to overreact to the preseason results while maintaining the necessary sense of urgency to correct the problems that have arisen.
"When we had 31 (turnovers against the Bobcats) I knew we weren't going to do worse than that and I was right (they had 30 in Utah)," he said. "But unfortunately we've got to cut our turnovers in half over the last two games. I know we can do it. It's got to be a combination of better defense and better decision-making. We'll get there.
"Right now, we're all glad these games don't count as real games but it sends a message that we've got a lot of work to do."
Early returns on the progress of the up-tempo offense haven't been overly encouraging. The Pacers averaged 96.0 points and .451 shooting in the preseason, producing more turnovers (181) than assists (155). In their five losses, they averaged 26.6 turnovers. Part of the problem was the fluid nature of lineups and rotations due to a series of injuries that were relatively minor but nonetheless disruptive to the preparation process.
With the team nearly at full strength now – only Orien Greene (broken finger) and John Edwards (groin) missed the Utah game – Carlisle hopes these final few days of practice will offer the opportunity to tie off the loose ends.
"It's probably been the most difficult (preseason) from the standpoint of new personnel and health issues and just general inconsistency," he said. "But I've seen enough good things to not be dismayed by it, and just know that we have to keep working to improve. It's as simple as that, really.
"The positives are our health situation appears to be improving. That's the major positive. The downside is the inconsistency. We have four days to practice together, to work on different lineups and possible rotations and try to get some cohesiveness at both ends of the court. It's an important stretch for us."
HARRINGTON'S STRONG PERFORMANCES ENCOURAGING
One of the few players to offer consistently encouraging preseason performances was Al Harrington, who put his considerable talents on display immediately. He led the team in preseason scoring (17.0) and steals (2.1) while shooting .506 from the field and averaging 5.0 rebounds – all in 24 minutes per game.
He scored at least 20 points four times, including a 24-point, 13-rebound effort in Utah.
"He's played well," Carlisle said. "He's shown he can run the floor effectively, that he can play out of movement effectively and that he can create individually if we need him to do that. And he's also, as he was here before, a very good team defender. He's been a great addition."
Harrington knows full well, however, the team has much progress to make in a short period of time.
"We can’t afford to play like that going into the regular season," he said after the Utah loss. "We should play a lot better and (have) these next four days of practice to improve. We've got to get better. We've got to come out of the gate stronger, we've got a lot of games on the road."
The Pacers play 13 of their first 19, and 23 of 39, on the road.
DIFFICULT ROSTER DECISIONS LOOMING
With 17 still on the roster, the Pacers must pare that number by two by Tuesday evening. Final cuts are universally difficult but perhaps moreso this season because of the intense competition for jobs.
Of the players widely perceived to be "on the bubble," Rawle Marshall has played the most consistently (7.9 points, seven steals, seven blocked shots) but is in a position already stocked by Stephen Jackson, Marquis Daniels and James White; Josh Powell (7.7, 4.6 rebounds) had a productive burst midway through the schedule but tailed off in the last two games, totaling three points and two rebounds in 19 minutes; and Edwards offers the promise of a skilled 7-footer but has missed almost all of the preseason with injuries to his back and groin.
It's possible the Pacers could pursue a trade to solve the roster overcrowding but that's generally difficult to do this time of year because most of the competition is in the same position.
"I'm not sure if or what other options are being explored but I can tell you every team in the league right now feels that they have 16 or 17 NBA players and don't want to cut anybody," Carlisle said. "I don't think we're that different from a majority of teams in the league right now. From that standpoint, I know we're not alone."
LINEUP, ROTATIONS STILL EVOLVING
Though the projected starting lineup (Jamaal Tinsley, Stephen Jackson, Danny Granger, Harrington and Jermaine O'Neal) was together for the final two games, those just happened to be the team's two worst performances of the preseason.
Though Carlisle believes the smaller front line of Granger, Harrington and O'Neal has the most potential, he's not yet ready to pronounce it his opening-night group.
"That's a tough one," he said. "I do think it can work, but right now I'm not committing to anything."
The primary alternative would be a bigger front line of Harrington, O'Neal and Jeff Foster, making Granger the sixth man.
Carlisle indicated the lineups and rotations that begin the season won't necessarily be locked.
"It's evolving and it'll evolve for awhile," he said. "I feel like I have some ideas about what will be effective but we're still too early in the process to say we've solved anything."