Kravitz sounds off:

Good news tough to find with this team

There are very few things in life that are more difficult than missing the playoffs in the NBA's Eastern Conference.

Like getting Courtney Love to complete the first nine steps of a 12-step program.

Like convincing Mark McGwire he should share a nice, romantic dinner with Jose Canseco and his literary agent.

Like getting Green Day to agree to play at Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles' upcoming nuptials.

Have I made my point?

If the season ended today -- and, frankly, there have been many nights recently when that has sounded like a great idea -- the Pacers would not be in the playoffs. Even with Sunday night's grinding 76-73 victory over the depleted Memphis Grizzlies -- this was as artful as a finger painting -- the one-time title contenders are currently a lottery team.

And that's not a position that figures to improve dramatically with a brutal post-All-Star break schedule.

But you want some good news, so here it is: Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, who brought his 9-month-old daughter, Abigail, to the postgame news conference, announced his daughter had stood up for the second time. This can only mean within six months she'll be asking for a Mustang convertible.

"We showed a strong will to win this game," Carlisle said.

The coach and his child made for a cute pre-Valentine's Day tableau, but it didn't change this essential fact:

The Pacers, 3-7 in their past 10 games before surviving this one against a Grizzlies team lacking Pau Gasol, Jason Williams and James Posey, are still in ninth place.

How bad have things gotten? Here is an updated list of all the teams over whom the Pacers can claim competitive superiority.

New Jersey, a franchise that would rather be in Brooklyn.

Toronto, a team that has so much infighting, hockey enforcer Tie Domi has been asked to join the team.

New York, where Isiah Thomas has not only put together a team that's bad, but it's bad and descending into long-term cap purgatory.

Plus there's Milwaukee and, as always, Atlanta, and one team that has an excuse, the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.

We knew things would be tough. This tough, we had no earthly idea. After 50 games and too many suspensions, injuries and illnesses to count, I've reached the following conclusions:

Ron Artest is the hands-down Most Valuable Player in this league. Forget Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash and LeBron James. While I still believe he belongs somewhere else -- don't hold your breath, Bob -- Artest's value has gone through the roof.

For the most part, the Pacers have studiously avoided playing the excuse game, but the explanations for the team's languid play recently have become tiresome.

It was fair to expect the Pacers to struggle when Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson were out, but both have been back long enough for the team to have turned the corner. No, it doesn't help that Jamaal Tinsley is always out with the crud or a bad foot, but they should be more competitive by now.

OK, it's been 50 games and Jonathan Bender is still on the injured list.

Here's the deal: He will return and stay healthy the day I get the call to work as a Calvin Klein underwear model.

Carlisle will disagree, and I'm guessing Abigail would follow suit -- she's not a rebellious teen yet -- but I'd love to see the Pacers run some more.

When they had two terrific post players, the grind-it-out style made sense. But now, it's too much of lobbing the ball into O'Neal and waiting around.

"When we go too fast, we don't get the ball into Jermaine, and without Jamaal (Tinsley), we've got to be a little more of a grinding team," Carlisle said. ". . . If we just went to a run-and-gun style, it would be bad for us."

That's OK. My kids don't listen to me, either.

A couple of words about O'Neal: I'm glad he's gotten some good national publicity in recent weeks, but it's time to stop saying all the right things and start doing all the right things -- notably leading this team back from the edge of playoff extinction.

If I'm his adviser, I'm telling him to go to the All-Star game, deflect all questions about the brawl -- the more he talks, the more it sounds like a lot of rationalizing -- and re-focus on playing these final months with renewed purpose.

It would be a lousy way for Reggie Miller to go out -- and it would cut into the Simon brothers' bottom line -- but if you're completely objective about it, missing the playoffs wouldn't be the worst thing that ever happened.

It's not like this is some young team that desperately needs postseason experience.

Anybody remember San Antonio and the Tim Duncan jackpot?

Thirty-two more games.

Ninth place.

It's like we say in the 'hood: Blecccch.