Sleepin’ on Nap Town
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NOT MILWAUKEE, Dec. 5, 2006 -- Someone asked me the other day what I thought about the Indiana Pacers.

Sadly, I had no answer for them.

While I didn't have the Pacers winning the division, I did have them on my white board for the playoffs, somewhere between a fifth to eight seed in the Eastern Conference.

But until that query on Monday, the Pacers done slipped my mind. I hadn't thought much about the them on the court this season (except when they took two from the Bucks in November). And that is troubling.

Why? Because for 15 of the last 17 seasons, the Pacers have made the Playoffs. And not only made the Playoffs, but they've been a force, advancing to the Finals once (2000) and the Eastern Conference Finals six times, and did so as recently as 2004.

They have a rabid and knowledgeable fan base (it is Indiana after all), a beautiful arena that's new but drips with history and a love for the game, a great team website and an NBA and local legend as the President of Basketball Operations in Larry Bird.

Then, there was Reggie Miller, one of the greatest shooters/villains in NBA history. Nearly all of Indiana's greatest postseason moments involve Reggie, including his eight points in 8.9 seconds and his 25-point quarter, both against the Knicks. He'd can a three in your guy's mug, then give Spike Lee the choke sign. He even bested the mighty Michael Jordan in a few mano-a-mano battles.

Miller may have gotten under your skin, but you couldn't deny his cold-hearted competitiveness.

So, whither the Pacers?

Not quite, but there are reasons besides their pedestrian 9-10 record (more on this later) that the Pacers have slipped from the collective consciousness.

First, there was the infamous brawl at The Palace. You remember. You saw it. No need to rehash it. We should talk about the Pacers' numbers since then.

Yes, they made the Eastern Conference semis the season of the incident, where they lost to the Pistons, but in the 174 regular season games since that fateful November night, the Pacers are 87-87, a .500 team. That's a far cry from the .625 regular-season winning percentage they had between 1997-2004.

Then, there's was Stephen Jackson's "gentleman's club" incident this offseason. It was another smudge mark on a franchise with a proud tradition. Before the season, CEO and President Donnie Walsh admitted to the Indy Star that it had been tough on the franchise.

"We're in the position now where our value system has been questioned," Walsh said. "I have to get up and basically let people know that whatever happened, we're going to deal with it the best way possible. It's been difficult."

But there have been recent signs such happenings could be a thing of the past. Jackson, for one, is trying to make amends. This Indy Star article notes how Jackson has cut down on his complaining to officials and how he hasn't moped despite being moved to the bench.

"You can really see a difference in him so far," Walsh told the Indy Star "What happened earlier is unfortunate, but he's managed to play through it. He's not letting what has happened away from the basketball court affect what he's doing on the court. He's really working at it."

These are good signs for the Pacers. What they need on the court, however, is a little more consistency and a little home cookin'.

The Pacers went 2-4 on a six-game road swing which encompassed three time zones, six hotels and 9,000 miles.

"It would be ideal if the goal was to rack up frequent flyer miles," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle told the Indy Star. "In terms of routing, it was difficult. You're going to have difficult stretches in the schedule. The idea is to hang in and give ourselves a chance every night."

Until a 20-point thumping in Denver on Saturday, the Pacers had been competitive in the first four games of the trip. They closed out the journey with a 101-87 loss to the Lakers on Monday.

"This is the toughest road trip I've been on maybe in my career," forward Jermaine O'Neal told the Indy Star. "We were trying to find sleep when we could."

For the remainder of December, they can sleep at home for eight of their 13 games. Even when they go on the road before the end of 2006, their five road games are in cities the Pacers could practically run wind sprints to: Cleveland, Chicago, Philly, Atlanta and Detroit .

And while returning home is nice, Carlisle would prefer the Pacers start games with more urgency.

"I think we’re at a point now where as a team we’ve got to realize that part of being successful is the way you compete - and the way you share the ball and the way you help each other defensively," Carlisle told Pacers.com.

"We haven’t done a good job of doing those things to start games. We got to get better fast because just cause we’re going home doesn’t mean that it’s going to cure itself.”

As a Bucks fan and an NBA fan, I hope the Pacers do find the cure. It'll be nice to root against them once again ... for all the right reasons.

HEADBAND OF BROTHERS RESPONSES

I asked what you thought of the Bulls' headband rule. You responded. Here they are.

Jeremy of Chattanooga, Tenn. writes:

"The head band rule is an understandable rule. The head band is harmless itself, it's just a way of a player showing their style. But when the emphasis is on team, maybe a player's individual style doesn't need to be on display. I like the rule. Sure I like Carmelo's signature braids topped by a head band, and it makes him more recognizable and marketable. But it should be about the game and not the players. I'm all for having jerseys with no names on the back. I want to see five guys who are proud to be part of an organization not an organization that's proud to be part of one player."

Jerseys with no names on the back. I'm old school, but even I don't want to get rid of the names on the back of the jerseys. How would I know which bench players to heckle. Priorities, people.

Metlctur from San Jose, Calif. writes:

"When I used to play hoops I wore a headband for one reason alone. To keep the sweat out of my eyes. I don't see the headband as a fashion statement but as a tool for the player to enhance his game. But I also think that in the Bulls incident Skiles is using it as a tool also. He is using it to assert himself as top dog."

It's no surprise to get a utilitarian response from a guy named Metlcutr.

Another from San Jose. This one from Rich:

"Headbands/hairstyle/fashion on the court in general are simply distractions to the game. Anyone that wants to show off and get attention should do so with his game, not his band/mohawk/baggy shorts. With that said, I don't consider it disrespectful to the game if someone does wish to pursue his on-court fashions. I think it adds personality to the game. This obviously runs contrary to the 'team' concept of basketball. However, if a player plays like a team player, at the end of the day, who cares what he is wearing/sporting?? I'm paying to see the game (the 'show' as you eloquently put it) and if the players can be a complete team player and wants to have his look a little different than the others, I'm all for it (See Steve Nash from the previous three-four years). Headband and a mohawk, however, is distasteful and frankly, ugly."

Thanks for the comments on my eloquence, I appreciate that. Though I think you're trying to have it both ways in this one. You can have the headband. You can have the Mohawk. But you can't have them together? If we continued that line of thinking, we'd never have the great confection concoction: the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

"You got your chocolate in my peanut butter. You got your peanut butter on my chocolate."

(By the way, who brings a jar of peanut butter to a movie theater? No, really...)

RBK in Milay-wau-kay, writes:

"I think that it is ridiculous that they can't wear headbands. I think that the only limit to NBA fashion should be how bad they look. LeBron and Big Ben look fine, therefore they should be permitted to wear the sweatbands. However, there are those who can't pull it off. Even though I am a huge Bucks fan, as you said Bogut needs to lose the headband."

That's another vote against the Bogut band.

Finally, Scott in Madison, Wis. writes:

"I don't give a rip about headbands, but I have quietly raised a pot of $134 from some fellow Bucks-fan friends which we are prepared to offer Charlie V if he plays an entire game in a toupee.

Are you willing to help raise the pot?

P.S. I check NBA.com every day for an updated CI column. Keep it up. Go Bucks. Redd is awesome and Bogut is only going to get better."

Scott, thanks for the kind words on the column, but I'd rather you donate that C-Note+Ray Allen to the Charlie Villanueva Foundation, which is, according to the Bucks media guide, dedicated to "eliminating bullying by supporting organizations to take positive actions against bullying through programs that provide guidance in creating non-violent solutions to the challenges and problems associated with bullying."

As you know, Charlie's also the national spokesman for the Alopecia Areata Foundation. AA is an autoimmune skin disease that results in hair loss.

LETTER OF THE WEEK

I especially enjoyed this missive from Martin in Bellingham, Wash. He managed to give me a thorough backhanded compliment.

Eh, I'll take it.

"On the topic of dimming the lights in the audience, I couldn't agree with you more. Exclusively lighting the stage would go far in classing up the game, which in my opinion, is about a slim notch above the NFL. Also, they need to stop playing the same corny techno and rock songs during the games, as well as the cartoons and DEFENSE!! clips on the big ugly box hanging from the ceiling (like we need to be told when to yell defense... Who even wants to yell defense anyway). In fact, I don't want to hear any music at all, except maybe Miles Davis.

Thank you for reading my humble opinion, feel free to respond (I find your writing surprisingly witty, although occasionally trite, but none of us are perfect, except for me) (sic)"

Witty? Me? Why thanks. That's much appreciated. I may just print this out and show it to my wife. She will understand the trite part. As for your perfection, I am loathe to agree, except of course, for the missing period at the end of your e-mail. Gotcha.

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