Wednesday , Nov , 02 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Artest returns for Pacers

(Sports Network) – Ron Artest plays his first game since the infamous brawl at
The Palace last November, when the Indiana Pacers kick off their 2005-06
campaign against the Orlando Magic at the TD Waterhouse Centre.

The Pacers, who lost Reggie Miller to retirement in the offseason, won 44
games last year and made it to the conference semifinals, where they were
eliminated in six games by Detroit. However, their season will be most
remembered for what happened on November 19 when an on-court altercation
between Artest and Detroit’s Ben Wallace set off a fracas never seen before in
pro sports.

Artest, the 2004 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, charged into the crowd
after fans after getting hit with debris. Commissioner David Stern showed no
mercy as he suspended Artest for the final 73 games of the season.

Stephen Jackson was also suspended for 30 games and All-Star Jermaine O’Neal
sat out 15 for their involvement in the brawl. Jackson netted 18.7 points per
contest and shot 36 percent from beyond the arc in the 51 games and O’Neal,
who was hampered with a shoulder injury, posted 24.3 points and 8.8 rebounds
in 44 contests during the regular season.

Losing Miller’s enthusiasm, leadership and clutch shooting, though, is going
to hurt big time. The return of Artest will pay huge dividends and the Pacers
are counting on it, as they are coming off a very quiet offseason.

Indiana did catch a break with the 17th overall pick, as New Mexico forward
Danny Granger was available and the Pacers did not hesitate to select him.
Granger is an athletic forward who will be able to log some time right away.

The club also lost veteran Dale Davis to free agency, as the center signed a
contract with Detroit. Forward James Jones was dealt to Phoenix for a 2008
second- round draft pick in a sign-and-trade deal.

Indiana was 19-22 away from home last season.

For the Magic, new head coach Brian Hill has returned once again to try and
guide the team to NBA glory. Hill has come back to the team that he led to
three 50-plus win campaigns as well as an appearance in the 1995 NBA Finals.

Hill, who had been an assistant with the New Jersey Nets, replaced Chris Jent,
who took over on an interim basis after Johnny Davis was relieved of his
duties with 18 contests left in the 2004-05 season. The Magic finished 36-46
and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

There are some pieces in place for Hill to work with. Dwight Howard, who turns
20 on December 8, had a solid rookie campaign as he averaged 12.0 points and
10.0 rebounds. He played all 82 regular-season games and showed improvement as
the season progressed.

High-flying Steve Francis gives the Magic a dynamic presence in the backcourt.
He led the club in scoring (21.3 ppg) and assists (7.0 apg) in 78 contests
during his first year with Orlando. The three-time All-Star will spend a lot
of time at shooting guard this season, as Jameer Nelson is ready to take over
at point guard.

Grant Hill made a triumphant return in 2004-05. The 33-year-old forward
registered 19.7 points, 4.7 boards and 3.3 assists in 67 contests. Prior to
last season, he had played just 47 games because of serious problems with his
left ankle since joining the Magic before the 2000-01 campaign.

However, he will be sidelined for the first 3-to-6 weeks of the season with a
hernia injury.

Fran Vazquez was selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft.
However, the Spaniard decided he was going to play in Europe during the
upcoming season.

Orlando did sign free agent guard Keyon Dooling, who played 74 games for the
Miami Heat last season and averaged 5.4 points and 1.8 assists. The 25-year-
old Dooling adds athleticism and depth in the backcourt.

Orlando was 24-17 in its arena this season.

The Magic took three of four meetings from the Pacers last season, but could
be at a disadvantage tonight, as the home team in this series has lost four of
five and eight of the last 10 matchups. Indiana has also won five of its last
seven in Orlando.