Monday , Nov , 22 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Points in the Paint

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – The Indiana Pacers are in big trouble!

When NBA Commissioner David Stern handed down the suspensions for the
disgraceful events that took place during Friday’s Pistons/Pacers game at The
Palace of Auburn Hills, Indiana went from a title contender to a club that is
going to have to fight to make the playoffs.

All-Star forward Ron Artest is gone for the rest of the season, while fellow
All-Star Jermaine O’Neal will miss 25 contests and swingman Stephen Jackson,
who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Atlanta Hawks, will not suit
up for Indiana’s next 30 games. Also receiving suspensions were Reggie Miller,
who was suspended for one game, and reserve Anthony Johnson, who will be out
for five contests as a result of his actions during the brawl. Miller (hand)
and Johnson (finger) are currently on the injured list.

The controversial Artest, who was benched earlier this season for what Pacers
head coach Rick Carlisle termed “compromising the integrity of the team”, was
off to a great start statistically to the 2004-05 season. In seven games,
Artest, was the 2004 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, had averaged a team-
high 24.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

Originally selected out of St. John’s by the Chicago Bulls in the first round
(16th overall) of the 1999 NBA Draft, the 25-year-old Artest has registered
14.4 points, 4.7 boards, three assists and 2.09 steals per game in 352-career
contests. The Pacers will miss his intensity on defense, as well as his
offensive skills and competitive nature.

O’Neal, 26, had averaged 22.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in eight games for the
Pacers this season. A three-time All-Star, O’Neal is Indiana’s first option on
the offensive end of the court. He is the Pacers’ go-to guy in crunch time, a
leader on the team and has become one of the NBA’s best power forwards.

Playing in his ninth season in the league, O’Neal was originally selected out
of Eau Claire High School by the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round
(17th pick overall) of the 1996 NBA Draft. After four frustrating years in
Portland, O’Neal was traded to the Pacers, along with Joe Kleine, in exchange
for center Dale Davis on August 31, 2000.

Jackson, who can play small forward or shooting guard, was the one significant
addition to the Indiana roster during the offseason. The 6-8 Jackson is solid
defensively, is a deadly shooter from beyond the arc, and is expected to
replace veteran Reggie Miller when the 39-year-old shooting guard decides his
playing days are over. Jackson also brings championship experience to Indiana
as he won a championship ring with the San Antonio Spurs in 2002-03.

In nine games for the Pacers this season, the 26-year-old Jackson has averaged
15.3 points, five rebounds, three assists and 1.22 steals. He is shooting 37.2
percent from beyond the arc and 88 percent from the foul line.

Indiana, which won a franchise-best 61 games during the 2003-04 regular
season, will struggle big time without its three best players. Pacers’ head
coach Rick Carlisle runs the majority of his offensive plays through O’Neal,
while Artest and Jackson are the second and third options. Indiana’s defense
also becomes a lot less intimidating without the trio, as all three .

Yes, O’Neal and Jackson will return to the Pacers after serving their
suspensions. But will Indiana be able to hang on until they are able to
play?

O’Neal will be able to rejoin the club on January 15, 2005 when the Pacers
host the Orlando Magic, while Jackson can return to the Indiana bench on
January 26th at Boston.

Before Friday’s despicable events, the Pacers were expected to battle Detroit
for the Central Division crown. Now, Indiana will have to scratch-and-claw its
way into the postseason. The Pacers are a great team with Artest, Jackson and
O’Neal, without them Indiana is a club that could pile up a lot of losses,
which could be very tough to bounce back from when it gets back two of its
players.

The Pacers have gone from being a first or second seed in the Eastern
Conference to a team that will have to fight to avoid missing the playoffs for
the first time since 1997.