by Conrad Brunner
Feb. 26, 2003
INSIDER SCOUTING REPORT
PACERS (37-20) at BOSTON (31-25)
Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003
7 p.m., FleetCenter
TV: FOX Sports Net
RADIO: WIBC-1070 AM
By Conrad Brunner
Look at the Eastern Conference standings, and you don't see many reasons for panic. Look on the court throughout an 83-78 loss to Washington Tuesday night, or in the locker room afterward, and you see an entirely different picture.
This is a team in the throes of its first crisis of the season. It isn't just a five-game losing streak, or eight losses in the last 12 games. It's the apparent unraveling of team chemistry, a loss of consistency and cohesion. Ron Artest, for example, wasn't expected to play against the Wizards. Not only did he play, he started at point guard for the first time all season and, predictably, struggled through a 3-of-17 shooting night. Afterward, coach Isiah Thomas told him not to join the team for the trip to Boston for "disciplinary reasons." Whatever Artest did happened behind closed doors because there was no public offense in the loss to the Wizards.
"I've got to get back right," he said, his voice cracking. "It was a bad game. It's a bad stretch. ... There's not many words, not many solutions. Maybe we should look at some tapes from earlier in the season. We played excellent then but some things are changing right now."
As opposing defenses have collapses on All-Star big men Jermaine O'Neal and Brad Miller, the Pacers have not been able to develop an effective counterpunch because, beyond Reggie Miller, the perimeter offense is struggling. The team has shot .396 overall in the past 12 games and .293 from the 3-point line.
O'Neal, facing swarming defenses, has averaged 15.6 points on .396 shooting in the last seven games. Miller has found just nine shots in the last two.
"That can be a factor," said O'Neal. "I haven't had much practice time with the team because of my injuries, and maybe that's a reason. When I think about why we don't have that rhythm, it's probably because I haven't been able to be there in practice."
The defense isn't exactly picking up the slack in the current streak, as opponents have averaged 98.6 points on .473 shooting. Without defensive stops, the transition game can't get started; the Pacers have been outscored 88-38 on fast-break points. Even when the defense keeps the point total down, as happened Tuesday night, it forced just three turnovers - tying the NBA record-low.
Now, they go on the road, where they've dropped four in a row and seven of nine overall and three straight in Boston.
"We've got to go play a tough Boston team and it's gut-check time," said Erick Strickland. "We've got to search deep and find it. We've got to all come together and get back to the focus on team success."
If there is a bright side, it is that the misery has company. Both New Jersey and Detroit also are struggling, allowing the Pacers to remain in second place in the East, just one-half game behind the Pistons. That is of little solace to the Indiana players, however.
"That makes it more frustrating," said O'Neal. "We're not losing much ground but we aren't gaining anything, and we've got a hell of a schedule coming up in March."
One victory can have remarkable therapeutic value for a team in a slump. Would a victory in Boston, therefore, be particularly big for the Pacers?
"A win in the parking lot," said O'Neal, "would be big for this team."
Jamaal Tinsley, who missed the Washington game to be with his ill mother, could rejoin the team in Boston.
Reggie Miller has averaged 18.0 points on .474 shooting overall and .459 from the arc in his last six full games.
Celtics - J.R. Bremer has averaged 11.1 points and 3.8 assists in the last 21 games. ... The team ranks fourth in the NBA in turnovers forced (16.5). ... Tony Battie scored 20 points on 10-of-15 shooting against Houston on Monday. ... Paul Pierce is fourth in scoring (26.3), first in free-throw attempts (529), fifth in 3-point attempts (.290) and seventh in steals (1.88). ... Antoine Walker is 19th in scoring (20.9), first in 3-pointers attempted (413) and made (139) and first in minutes (42.3). ... In two games against the Pacers, Walker has averaged 26.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting .579 from the floor. ... Tony Delk ranks 10th in 3-point percentage (.407). ... Eric Williams is coming off his second double-double of the season Monday night (11 points, 11 rebounds). ... Walter McCarty has averaged 14.3 points and 6.8 rebounds on .568 shooting in the last four games.
Al Harrington has shot .365 overall in the last eight. ... Ron Mercer has averaged 5.7 points on .313 shooting in the last 15. ... Jermaine O'Neal has averaged 15.6 points on .396 shooting in the last seven.
Celtics - Pierce has gone 8-of-30 (.267) from the 3-point line in the last five. ... Walker has shot .333 overall and .227 from the arc in the last three. ... Delk has shot 7-of-23 (.304) overall in the last three.
The Pacers need to be reminded that they have an All-Star center in Brad Miller, because they've forgotten about him. Miller has gotten just nine shots in the last two games, an inexcusably low total for the most accurate shooter on the team (.512). For the Pacers to beat Boston, Miller must overpower Tony Battie, who isn't a big offensive threat but can make a difference with his rebounding and shot-blocking. The forgotten man must be remembered.
F Ron Artest is not with the team for disciplinary reasons; F Jonathan Bender (L calf) and G Freddie Jones (L knee) are on the injured list.
Celtics - F Bruno Sundov (R ankle) is on the injured list.