John Wall: the ultimate consolation Prize
The Indiana Pacers might end up with a shot at Kentucky freshman John Wall, but lying down against bad teams like New Jersey is not the plan.
By Mike Wells
The prize is sitting there to be picked up.
He stands 6-4. Jumps like Dwyane Wade. Passes like Steve Nash.
John Wall, Kentucky's ultra-quick, playmaking point guard, is considered the consensus No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft if he decides to leave school early.
Whichever team wins the draft lottery could pick Wall and be set at that position for years.
The New Jersey Nets have the league's worst record, but the worst team is by no means a lock to win the lottery. The Indiana Pacers are in the mix. The teams play tonight in New Jersey.
Pacers fans are torn. Many celebrate victories and hope for the playoffs. Others realize every loss helps their lottery odds. They would rather see the Pacers tank than sneak into the playoffs or, worse, just miss like the three previous seasons, and land another draft pick in the mid-teens.
As tempting and franchise-altering as winning the lottery and first shot at Wall might be, those associated with the team -- from president Larry Bird on down -- are chasing another prize: the playoffs.
"I'm near the top of the list of players that have never made it. I want to get there," said forward Troy Murphy, who has played 577 games without a playoff appearance.
The Pacers certainly are playing like they hope to delay summer vacation.
They came from 23 points down against Toronto and 24 down against Phoenix to win their previous two games.
"It's coming together, but we still need a complete team effort where we get everyone involved," point guard Earl Watson said. "We have to find a way to get everyone going offensively and defensively. We have to be aggressive, be edgy, get deflections, block shots, transition points and create tempo."
The Pacers have two things going against them in trying to secure their second three-game winning streak this season.
They have dropped nine consecutive road games and 15 of their past 16. They also have a bad habit of following impressive victories with uninspiring losses.
"We can't lose to New Jersey," forward Danny Granger said. "We haven't taken advantage of these types of opportunities in the past. It's a game we absolutely cannot lose because we've got a little bit of momentum."
The Pacers have recently started playing -- offensively at least -- the way they envisioned.
Coach Jim O'Brien is playing at least four shooters as much as possible to try to keep the opponent's defense honest. He said his best lineup has only one big man -- Troy Murphy or Roy Hibbert.
The Pacers scored 70 points and shot nearly 57 percent in the second half of Wednesday night's 122-114 victory against the Suns.
Granger and Mike Dunleavy, who both missed an extended amount of time early in the season, combined for 63 points and nine 3-pointers in the game.
"This team was built with certain ingredients," O'Brien said. "When you play most of the season without those ingredients, it has a traumatic effect on you. When they come back and start to get acclimated to each other again, you're going to see a much better brand of basketball."
Hibbert continues to show signs of complementing shooters on the perimeter. He is averaging 15 points and 6.2 rebounds in the past nine games.
"When you have a guy that can score inside with the effectiveness of Roy, then you have guys that have shot over 40 percent from the 3 and aggressive point guards and you're healthy, you can see where you are and how the plan is coming together," O'Brien said. "The fact of the matter is we have Danny, Mike and Troy all healthy at the same time and you have a developing center."
Pacers at New Jersey Nets
8 p.m. today, Izod Center.
Fox Sports Indiana.
Granger is averaging 25 points since returning from a foot injury. He had 33 points and eight rebounds against Phoenix on Wednesday.
Pacers by 12. They'll avoid playing down to the level of their competition and win three games in a row for just the second time this season.
• Injury update:
Jeff Foster (back) is out.
• Charity game Sunday:
Earl Watson is hosting "Annesha's Angels Celebrity Basketball Game" at 3 p.m. Sunday at Lawrence Central High School to raise money for an Indianapolis family, whose 5-year-old daughter, Annesha Wilson, died in a July fire. Tickets are $10.
-- Mike Wells