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Could Current Pacers Beat 2000 Team?

Conrad Brunner

Q. Who do you think would win between this year's Pacers squad and the 2000 NBA Finals team? I think that would be a close game down to the wire with this year’s team coming up a little short. (From Sean in Indianapolis)

A. Now there’s a question that stimulates the imagination.

First, let’s look at the matchups. At point guard, the 2000 team had Mark Jackson; this team has Jamaal Tinsley. That’s becoming less of a mismatch every day, but Jackson still has the edge.

Reggie Miller was (is) the shooting guard for both teams, but was four years younger and markedly more productive in 2000 (when he averaged 18.1 points per game).

At small forward, things get really interesting: Jalen Rose vs. Ron Artest. Both are complete offensive players, but Artest’s defense gives him the advantage.

At power forward, you have two players who were traded for one another: Dale Davis vs. Jermaine O’Neal. As important as Davis was to that team, there simply is no comparison between the two. O’Neal wins that matchup by a prohibitive margin.

Things turn around at center, where Rik Smits’ offensive ability gives him a major advantage against Jeff Foster.

As for the benches, the 2000 team had Austin Croshere, Travis Best and Sam Perkins in the three primary roles and all were productive, but the rotation didn’t go much deeper. This team has Harrington, Anthony Johnson, Kenny Anderson, Fred Jones, Scot Pollard and Croshere playing significant roles in reserve.

So give the 2003-04 Pacers a slight advantage because of depth and versatility.

Of course, you can’t just put names on paper and decide who’s better. You have to consider the intangibles. The 2000 team was comprised almost exclusively of hardened, season veterans who had been together a few years and knew exactly what it would take to win at the highest level. It was also a team that could write poetry with its offense.

This team has far more athleticism, not to mention more flexibility to cause mismatch problems. It’s built around a defense that’s about as subtle as a jackhammer.

Both teams had no-nonsense head coaches (Larry Bird then, Rick Carlisle now) with different approaches. Bird let his assistants (Carlisle and Dick Harter) handle most of the preparation, and encouraged his veterans to take control on the floor. Carlisle is much more hands-on, both in the preparation and game-management phases.

Though the teams are very different, they’re very evenly matched. It would be a terrific matchup that just might go down to the final seconds. The only thing that can be safely forecast is this: Miller would hit the clinching shot. Right now, you’d have to give the edge to the 2000 team because it had been through the postseason wars.

But check back in four months. The current team might have taken care of that particular intangible by then.