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By Conrad Brunner | Oct. 10, 2004
After less than one week of practice, the Pacers open the preseason Monday night against the Washington Wizards. The game will be played in Worthen Arena on the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, IN, a little more than an hour's drive from Conseco Fieldhouse.
"It's quick, but we'll be ready by Monday for a game," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "We won't be ready for a season, but we'll have enough in where we can play a game in some form."
The Pacers could be without two key players. Jermaine O'Neal has indicated he might sit out the first two or three preseason games to rest his sore foot. Jonathan Bender has been bothered by left knee pain the last two days and his status also is uncertain.
Ron Artest, who missed practice Friday and Saturday to attend the funeral of his paternal grandmother in New York, is expected to rejoin the team Monday. The Wizards will be without post player Kwame Brown, who is expected to miss the entire preseason after undergoing surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot.
"Jermaine's foot is still a little sore so we'll play that one by ear," Carlisle said. "Bender's thing is getting better gradually but it's a day-to-day situation. We're not going to take any unnecessary risks, I can tell you that."
Because the team has had so little practice -- just two days of two-a-days, followed by single practices Thursday through Saturday before taking Sunday off -- Carlisle plans to use the early preseason games as opportunities to get his primary players into game shape.
"You've still got to use conditioning as a consideration," he said. "It's important our top players are playing a certain number of minutes so they're getting enough work in terms of conditioning. And we're doing some things differently, so everybody needs to get a certain number of reps.
"The top 12 or 14 guys are going to get the bulk of the minutes. Some of the other guys will get opportunities here and there."
The Pacers generally play at least one preseason game in the state. In recent years, they've traveled to Evansville, South Bend and Fort Wayne. Training camp, in fact, used to be at Mackey Arena on the Purdue campus in West Lafayette.
"I really like the way they've done the exhibition schedule here," Carlisle said. "We're in our building (Conseco Fieldhouse) at least three or four times and then we're in the state usually once or twice, whether it's Evansville or Muncie, and there's times we've been in West Lafayette. I think it's great.
"Who knows? Maybe we'll get to play in Bloomington at some point in time. It's good, because it gives our team a little exposure around the state and allows people to see us in person who don't get the chance during the year."
Because the crowds are comprised of fans who may not otherwise have the opportunity to see an NBA game in person, the atmosphere also can be different.
"My experience has been that basketball crowds in the state of Indiana are always good, no matter where you go, whether you're in Conseco Fieldhouse, Market Square, Evansville, or Fort Wayne," Carlisle said. "There's always excitement and you always feel that you're in the presence of knowledgeable people that love and respect the game."
Washington, 25-57 a year ago, features a young roster lead by explosive scorers Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. Former Indiana University standout Jared Jeffries could also be a fan favorite.