by Conrad Brunner
January 17, 2005
In his first 10 games of the season, he looked like the Reggie Miller of old, averaging 19.8 points per game, scoring at least 30 twice, pouring in shots from all over the floor.
Ever since, Miller has stepped into the offensive shadows. In the last eight games, Miller has reached double figures just twice, averaging 7.8 points on .338 shooting (22-of-65). In that span, he has averaged 7.2 field-goal attempts, less than half the 14.6 average of his first 10 games.
"I think a lot of the time, we're doing things that are putting him in motion," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "If teams take him away, that means somebody else is open. Most of his open shots now come in transition because of how teams are still glued to him.
"Yeah, we'd like to get him more open shots and we will work to do that, but at the same time I think it's important to understand he's still an integral part of our offense, even though a lot of times he doesn't get a lot of shots."
Though Miller's slide would seem to coincide with the return of Jermaine O'Neal, it's not quite that simple. Miller scored 24 points in each of O'Neal's first two games back from suspension. Since then, he hasn't surpassed 11.
Miller may not be scoring in bunches, but Carlisle emphasizes the veteran's importance to the offense as a whole because of the threat he poses.
"He receives so much attention that he, in a sense, has to be a quarterback – a guy that helps other guys get shots," Carlisle said. "His activity opens a lot of residual things for other guys. A lot of times when he doesn't get credit for the assist, per se, his movement on the court causes the defense to go into a chain reaction which opens up other people. It doesn't just open up shots, it can open up a shot and an opportunity for an offensive rebound. He sets the defense in motion with his threat to score literally from anywhere on the court."
Miller, who declined comment after practice Monday, hasn't been without statistical accomplishment, however. With his three assists against Orlando Saturday, he passed Vern Fleming and took over first place on the franchise's all-time list.
Defense, Rebounding Encouraging
After a nightmarish three-game stretch in which the Pacers allowed 118.7 points and were outrebounded 133-88, the team appears to be regaining its more traditional footing.
In the last three games, the Pacers held their opponents to an average of 84.3 points while outrebounding them 136-108. Phoenix, the league's highest-scoring team, was held to season lows of 83 points and .392 shooting. Orlando, which ranks seventh, managed 85.
"At times we've gotten much more solid over the last three games, but the first half against Orlando was certainly a step back," Carlisle said. "The second half, we held them to 32 but we just didn't have enough in the tank to get over the hump.
"The name of the game has got to be consistency. You can't be a good team in this league and have lapses where you have bad halves on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, that's happened to us. Even during the two wins, we had a horrible first half against Memphis (allowing 57 points); the second half was much better. We had two great halves against Phoenix and then one stinker against Orlando. Two out of five halves is going to get you beat at times. You just leave too much to chance. Consistency is a big part of being good and we've got to get more consistent."
Soreness, but No Setback, for Bender
The day after wasn't quite as positive as Jonathan Bender hoped, but neither was it represent a setback. In his first action since Nov. 17, Bender played 17 minutes and scored eight points against Orlando Saturday. His right knee, which kept him on the injured list more than six weeks, was sore Sunday but he was back at practice Monday and expects to play Tuesday in Houston.
If he does, it'll be the first time this season he could play in consecutive games.
"At first when I had a lot of energy, I felt like I was able to contribute a little bit more, but it's just the thing of getting my stamina up and being used to being out there again," Bender said. "It was my first time out there in a minute, but it's going to get there."
Bender said his doctor has advised him against playing the second night of back-to-back sets, which would keep him out of Wednesday night's game in New Orleans and Saturday night's home game against Washington.
"He brings a different dimension to our team," Carlisle said. "There's no question we need to have him out there. But we've gone two months getting to a point where he can start playing and we've got to make sure he continues to do the things necessary to keep feeling good and that we don't have setbacks."
In 44 minutes this season, Bender has scored 24 points and pulled nine rebounds.