Monday , Feb , 23 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Indiana is in trouble without Artest

(Sports Network) – The Indiana Pacers are in big trouble, as All-Star forward
Ron Artest is sidelined indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a
ligament tear in his left thumb.

The 24-year-old Artest originally strained the thumb during a January 17 game
against the New Jersey Nets. He then re-aggravated the injury during an 89-75
loss on February 17th at New Orleans when he fell on his left hand.

The injury occurred in Indiana’s first game after the All-Star break.
Ironically, Artest appeared in his first career All-Star Game on February 15
at the Staples Center, finishing with seven points, three rebounds and three
assists in 17 minutes of action.

Originally, selected by the Chicago Bulls in the first round (16th overall) of
the 1999 NBA Draft, Artest was traded by the Bulls along with Ron Mercer, Brad
Miller and Kevin Ollie to the Pacers for Jalen Rose, Travis Best, Norman
Richardson and a second-round draft pick in February 2002.

A defensive specialist, Artest was having the best year of his five-year
career when he suffered the injury. In 52 games this season, the St. John’s
product is averaging 18.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.02 steals.

Indiana, which has a comfortable lead in the Central Division over second-
place Detroit, did not make a move at the trade deadline. With Artest out, the
Pacers should have tried to acquire a veteran forward as insurance in case
their All-Star forward does not make it back this season. I bet the Pacers
wish they called Golden State to see if Cliff Robinson was available and for
what price.

The Pistons picked up volatile forward Rasheed Wallace from Atlanta in a
three-team deal to help strengthen their squad. Without Artest and with
Detroit adding Wallace, I would have to give the Pistons the edge over the
Pacers.

Artest, who is Indiana’s second-leading scorer (All-Star forward Jermaine
O’Neal leads the Pacers at 20.2 points per game), will especially be missed on
the defensive end. His intensity and hard-nosed play is a tough attribute to
find in NBA players these days.

Indiana is going to need some of its players to raise their game to another
level.

“Our bench now, we’re having to have to redefine how we’re playing a little
bit,” said Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle. “I spent some time working with
these guys on some things and we have some challenges, but I like where we’re
at.”

Al Harrington, who is having his best season as an NBA player, and 38-year-old
Reggie Miller are going to have to step up their play big time in order for
Indiana to continue its stellar play.

The 24-year-old Harrington is third on the team in scoring (13.3 ppg) and
rebounding (6.5 rpg). Miller, who is playing an average of just 29 minutes per
game, is averaging a career-low 10.5 points.

Does Harrington have the ability to be a go-to player in the NBA? Does Miller
have enough left in the tank to put up big numbers night-in and night-out?
Without Artest, these are the players who are going to have to shine.

Artest is confident in his teammates abilities. “Our team is just so talented,
if a guy like me misses a game or something, we don’t miss a beat with Al and
Jonathan Bender,” Artest said.

If Artest is unable to return from the injury, it could mean a very quick exit
for the Pacers in the postseason. His intensity and gritty play is a valuable
asset to have in a seven-game series.

With Artest, Indiana was playing like a squad that appeared to be primed to
earn a spot in the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history and the
first time since 2000. The Pacers lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers
in their lone visit to the finals. The loss of Artest is something that
Indiana may not be able to rebound from.

IND