You watch the games, you see the scores, but how do you really know what's going on in NBA Playoffs 2004? NBA.com has infiltrated the action with the ultimate insiders -- the players themselves. We're giving you an exclusive look at the postseason with a roster of player mailboxes.
A three-time All-Star, Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots during the regular season. Send Jermaine a question via e-mail and we'll post his answers to the best questions at least once for each round of the Playoffs the Pacers reach.
O'Neal answered your second round of questions on Monday, May 17:
Q: Jermaine O'Neal, you are an awesome player. You have greatly improved yourself in the past years. Who has been your influence in these past years or was it just your ambition that you wanted to get better?
-- Harjot (Queens, N.Y.)
O'Neal: A lot of it was my ambition, just wanting to get better. I've been overlooked for so long that every year I want to bring something back to the table to put me at that superstar level, and also to give me the opportunity, at the end of my career, to be one of the best that ever played.
Q: Hello Mr. Jermaine O'Neal. What in your opinion would be the key match up of the series against the Heat? GO Pacers!
-- Konrad (Warsaw, Poland)
O'Neal: There's really no key matchup because they change lineups so much. They play Dwyane Wade at the point and at the two sometimes, and maybe even at the three. So it's just stopping those guys, stopping Dwyane Wade and stopping Lamar Odom and letting those other guys try to beat us.
Q: Hey Jermaine, How important is the crowd noise in the Home games? I was wondering, since Conseco is one of the loudest facilities, does it at times affect the communication on the court?
-- Kelly (Indianapolis, Ind.)
O'Neal: As a home team, you want that crowd to be extremely loud. It affects the opposing team more than the home team. It's a great Sixth Man. It's a great energy booster when you're tired. You feel that energy and it makes you want to do more.
Q: What is it like playing with Reggie? And do you feel that the pressure is on the team to get a ring as his playing career is winding down?
-- Vanessa (Roseau, Dominica)
O'Neal: I feel a lot of pressure to get him a ring. It's a great thing to play with him, because he's one of the greatest players ever to play the game. It's such a privilege to be on the same court with him. The pressure's definitely there. I've just got to go out and play my game, along with the rest of my teammates, and hopefully we can get him that ring.
O'Neal answered your first round of questions on Tuesday, April 20:
Q: No one is really giving the Pacers much of a chance, even though you have
the best record in the NBA, why do you think this is, and will you try to
use it to your advantage?
-- Jo (Manchester, England)
O'Neal: Youíve got to be motivated. You have to use disrespect from these analysts and sports columnists to really motivate you. Hopefully, everybody feels the same way I feel. Personally, I feel like itís such a disrespectful thing when your team won 61 games and everybody says, Ďbut you play in the Eastern Conference.í Theyíre not really looking at the facts, and the fact is that we had a better winning percentage against the West than any team in the West had. And we won games. Thatís just how it is, and hopefully we can use that to motivate us.
Q: Can you point to any one thing that has helped this team succeed the way it
has this year particularly in light of the struggles of last year? What
made the difference over last year?
-- Dan (St. Louis, Mo.)
O'Neal: I think itís maturity, just being a year older. And the team is tired of being the team on the outside looking in. People said we had more talent and more ability but we just didnít have the mental focus. This year, our mental focus and our will to win and be the best has taken us a long way and hopefully it can take us a long way through the playoffs.
Q: Dear Jermaine: I think it's cool we have the same name. So what in your
words is the toughest obstacle to pass to beat the celtics. Good Luck.
-- Jermaine (Dawson, N.D.)
O'Neal: Itís about how we play the game. We need to play together, play hard, play good defense, share the ball and follow our Xs and Os.
Q: What team do you think will be the hardest team to play if you run into
them in the playoffs?
-- Joseph (Jersey City, N.J.)
O'Neal: New Jersey is the two-time Eastern Conference champion and Detroit has a pretty good team, so it has to be those two teams. Us, Detroit and New Jersey are the favorites to contend for the Eastern Conference championship and I think itís going to boil down to which team gets the most stops and which team plays the most unselfish basketball on the offensive end.
Q: I am a huge fan of the Pacers and you are my favorite Pacer. I am thrilled
that you finally getting the recognition as being one of the best in the
league. How does it make you feel when you hear that you a candidate for
MVP of the regular season?
-- Shelby (Emporia, Va.)
O'Neal: It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like my career is moving along. Obviously, I want to one day bring that trophy back to Indiana but right now Iím concentrating on winning a championship and making myself and my team better.
Q: First, let me say that I really admire your game and congrats on a MVP-like
season! My questions are what player(s) do you look forward to playing
against and who is the toughest player for you to guard?
-- Tone (Chicago)
O'Neal: Playing against Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Dirk Nowitzki, these guys are my peers and the elite forwards in the game. When you play against those guys, you really want to make sure you go out and do well. I would say it has to be those guys, especially since everybody talks so much about the West and how much better they are than the Eastern Conference players.