Tuesday , Oct , 19 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Indiana Pacers 2004-05 Season Preview

=== Indiana Pacers 2004-05 Season Preview ===

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

2003-04 FINISH: 61-21

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Eddie Gill (G) – Free Agent; Stephen Jackson (F/G) –
Trade with Atlanta.

OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Primoz Brezec (F) – Selected by Charlotte in Expansion
Draft; Al Harrington (F) – Traded to Atlanta.

2004 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (29) David Harrison (C, Colorado); 2. (59) Rashad
Wright (G, Georgia).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Jamaal Tinsley, SG Reggie Miller, SF Ron Artest,
PF Jermaine O’Neal, C Jeff Foster

COACH: Rick Carlisle

(Sports Network) – After winning a franchise-record 61 games during the
2003-04 regular season, the Indiana Pacers fell in six games in the Eastern
Conference finals to the eventual champion Detroit Pistons.

The Pacers enter the new season with high hopes, as they will once again be
led by their two All-Stars Jermaine O’Neal and Ron Artest. Both players are
coming off excellent seasons and should be primed for a repeat performance in
2004-05.

Swingman Stephen Jackson is the one significant addition to the Indiana
roster. The 6-8 Jackson, who can play shooting guard or small forward and is
also solid defensively, was acquired in July from the Atlanta Hawks in a sign-
and trade deal for forward Al Harrington, who averaged 13.3 points and 6.4
rebounds in 79 games for the Pacers last season. Jackson, who is a deadly
shooter from beyond the arc and will be a huge asset when veteran Reggie
Miller decides his playing days are over, brings championship experience as he
won a championship ring with the San Antonio Spurs in 2002-03.

“When you talk to Stephen, he talks more about winning than he does minutes or
points and that’s what’s most impressive about the young man,” said team
President Larry Bird. “He’s been very successful in his career in the NBA. He
played on a championship team and he’s looking forward to having another
opportunity to do that.”

With Harrington gone, Jonathan Bender should see his playing time increase.
The 23-year-old forward averaged seven points and 1.9 rebounds in just 12.9
minutes per game last season. Entering his sixth season in the league, Bender
has not reached his potential and the Pacers would love nothing more then for
him to have the breakout season that they have been waiting for.

Head coach Rick Carlisle, who has won at least 50 games in his three seasons
as an NBA general, returns for his second year with Indiana and will try and
figure out how to get his squad over the hump and into the finals. Carlisle
will have no problem implementing the talents of Jackson into his rotation, as
he is dealing with the same group that fell just two wins shy of reaching the
championship round for the second time in five years.

Indiana was not 100 percent healthy in last year’s conference finals, as
O’Neal, who is the main focus of the Pacers’ offense, was battling through an
injured left knee. The Pistons were a team of destiny, but the Pacers
obviously felt that if some things would have gone their way it would have
been them in the NBA Finals instead of Detroit.

BACKCOURT

The 39-year-old Miller will team up with point guard Jamaal Tinsley to form
Indiana’s starting backcourt. Last season, Miller played just over 28 minutes
per game, which was his least amount of playing time since his rookie campaign
in 1987-88. Miller’s production has diminished as well, as he averaged just 10
points, which was also his lowest average since his first year in the league.
However, Miller, who shot 40.1 percent from three-point-range, is still
capable of knocking down the long-range jumper and his leadership should once
again prove to be invaluable.

Tinsley missed 30 contests during the regular season, but averaged 8.3 points
and a team-high 5.8 assists when he was in the lineup. He is still improving
and showed flashes in the postseason that he is capable of raising his game to
the next level.

Jackson will takeover Miller’s post when the former All-Star calls it a
career. For now, Jackson will fill the role of sixth man. In 2003-04, the 26-
year-old Jackson led the Hawks in scoring (18.1 ppg) and also grabbed 4.6
rebounds to go along with 3.1 assists in 80 games.

“I’m the type of player that’ll do anything to win a game,” Jackson said. “If
I have to start a fight, whatever I have to do to help my team win, I’ll do
it. It’s just that simple. It’s about winning. A lot of guys come into this
game for the wrong reasons. You play this game because you love it, you play
this game to take care of your family, you play this game to win. I love to
win. I hate losing. I’ll do anything to win.”

The Pacers have more depth, as reserves Anthony Johnson and Fred Jones give
Carlisle steady play off the bench. Johnson, who is entering his eight season
in the NBA, averaged 6.2 points in 73 games for Indiana last season, while the
Jones appeared in 81 contests and netted 4.9 points in 18.6 minutes per game
in his sophomore year.

Reserve point guard Eddie Gill, who played 22 games for Portland last season,
was signed by Indiana as a free agent on July 28, 2004. He should be the
fifth guard and will fight for the right to backup Tinsley.

FRONTCOURT

Artest and O’Neal will be joined by center Jeff Foster in Indiana’s starting
frontcourt. With O’Neal at power forward and Artest, who was named the NBA’s
Defensive Player of the Year, at small forward, the Pacers have one of the top
forward combinations in the NBA.

A three-time All-Star, O’Neal led the Pacers in scoring (20.1 ppg) and
rebounding (10.0 rpg) during the regular season in 2003-04. The 6-11 O’Neal is
dominant in the low post and has accepted the challenge of being the go-to-guy
on one of the top squads in the NBA. O’Neal has proven that he deserves to be
mentioned in the same sentence as other star power forwards Tim Duncan and
Kevin Garnett.

Artest is the perfect complement to O’Neal. The 24-year-old forward is not
only a defensive stopper, but he is a serious threat on the other end of the
court. Artest scored a career-high 18.3 points per night in 73 games last
season. He also grabbed 5.3 boards, dished out 3.7 assists and registered 2.08
steals per game.

When Artest and O’Neal are resting, Bender and Austin Croshere will be asked
to fill in. Bender will need to show that he can be consistent player or the
loss of Harrington could prove to be very painful. The 29-year-old Croshere
has not played well over the last three seasons and will need to find his form
from the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons. Croshere, who played just 13.6 minutes
per game last season, should see more time on the court and needs to play with
the attitude that he has something to prove. Jackson will also get plenty of
playing time behind Artest, and could find himself as the top reserve in the
front and back courts if the other reserves do not take advantage of their
opportunities.

Foster is simply a role player. He is expected to set screens, create space,
take a charge, play defense and score an occasional basket off an offensive
rebound. Because he Artest and O’Neal are besides him, Foster is effective
because he understands his job. Veteran Scot Pollard and rookie David Harrison
will battle for playing time behind Foster.

OUTLOOK

With Artest and O’Neal leading the way, the Pacers are ready for another
serious run in the weak Eastern Conference. The addition of Jackson will prove
to be a big positive, and it could help Indiana get over the hump. Jackson
will help a great deal if the Pacers matchup once again with the Pistons in
the playoffs, as he plays the type of game that will be effective in a tough,
defensive series. Indiana may not repeat its 61 wins of a year ago, but they
will be one of the top three teams in the East and will be on a mission to
prove that they can win the big one.

IND