By Mike Wells
Pacers' best shooter: Bird?
On team president's 50th birthday, O'Neal talks about retired superstar's skills
Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said it doesn't seem that long ago that he and team president Larry Bird were teammates with the Boston Celtics. Jermaine O'Neal said he thought Bird was 35 or 40 years old.
Nice touch: Larry Bird, who turned 50 Thursday, was a pure shooter. He's shown in the 1988 NBA All-Star Shootout. - Andrew d. Bernstein / NBAE/Getty Images
Bird wasn't at practice, but there was plenty of talk of him turning 50 Thursday.
"I looked at some of his accomplishments on TV (Wednesday night). He's a hell of a player," O'Neal said about the Hall of Famer from French Lick. "I wish him 50 more years of great health."
NBA TV showed documentaries, commentaries and highlights all day Thursday of Bird, who led the Celtics to three championships.
"I probably would bet all of my contract that he can still shoot," O'Neal said. "He's one of the best pure shooters of all time. He kind of changed the whole format with the 6-9, 6-10 players who can put the ball on the floor."
Would Bird be the Pacers' best outside shooter if he suited up today?
"That's a dangerous question," O'Neal said, laughing. "I'm going to say no, because he's been out for so long. If he was playing every day, really staying in basketball shape, I would probably say yes."
Carlisle was nine words into his postgame speech after Wednesday's victory against Orlando when he focused on a constant negative: turnovers.
"We did a lot of good things out there, but the turnovers continue to haunt us, and we're going to have to keep working at that," he said.
Carlisle sounds like a broken record when talking about his team's turnover problems this season.
The Pacers are averaging nearly 18 turnovers, which is second-worst in the league, and are giving up 20.3 points per game off turnovers, which is 29th in the league.
If there's a way to turn the ball over, they've done it.
Throwing the ball to a teammate who is standing out of bounds. Throwing the ball to a defender. Even throwing the ball off the backboard while attempting a pass.
Point guards Sarunas Jasikevicius and Jamaal Tinsley lead the Pacers in turnovers at 4.8 and 4.7 per game, respectively. O'Neal also is averaging more than four turnovers.
"Sometimes we're trying to throw the ball through a defender's nose and have it come out his rear end and go to a teammate," Carlisle said. "We've shown signs of being a sensible team at times, and other times not so much. Until we can get it down to 15 and under on a consistent basis, we're going to be a schizophrenic offensive team and we're going to have a schizophrenic personality."
Center David Harrison said he felt good after his first full contact practice since spraining a joint in his left shoulder while stretching more than three weeks ago. Carlisle said Harrison could be activated soon if he continues to progress.
O'Neal was limited because of a sore left hamstring but should play tonight against Portland.
That quote from Rick had me chuckling out loud. That was totally unexpected!