by Conrad Brunner
Indianapolis, October 9, 2002 - If this is indeed the battle for the last available roster spot, there was no loser Wednesday night.
Veteran big men Greg Foster and Oliver Miller both were impressive in the Pacers' preseason opener, a solid 95-74 rout of the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night in Conseco Fieldhouse.
Foster had eight points and five rebounds in 10 minutes, hitting four-of-five shots. Six of his points came in a critical 17-2 run that opened an 81-63 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Miller played 13 minutes and had four points, three rebounds and two assists.
"They both did different things but showed what they can do," said coach Isiah Thomas. "Foster can really shoot the ball from the perimeter and can rebound. Oliver is a great passer who takes up space in your interior defense. Both those guys played well with the minutes that they got."
Foster, a 12-year veteran who missed most of last season with injuries, is hoping to hook on with his ninth NBA team.
"I was just anxious to get out there and see what would happen," he said. "I was happy with the way things went, but my attitude is that I just hope to live to see another day.
"People haven't seen me play in three years, really. Last year I was hurt and the year before that I was behind Shaquille (O'Neal with the Lakers) and didn't really play much, obviously. But I'm feeling like my old self again. I'm feeling good and feeling confident, but I know it's a day-to-day thing."
Miller, battling a career-long weight problem and trying to return to the league after a two-year absence, ran well and showed flashes of his soft hands and savvy passes.
"I've still got jitters. Man, I feel like I'm a rookie out there," he said. "I've been out two years and I'm not used to this atmosphere. But I felt pretty good, ran the floor, didn't get winded."
He also was something of a crowd favorite.
"It felt good to hear the cheers," he said. "Once I get comfortable, they're really going to scream."
From a team perspective, the defense overshadowed a new offensive system - dubbed "quick"- that was implemented for the first time. The Hornets shot .333 and totaled just 26 points (on nine-of-50 shooting) in the second and fourth periods.
Offensively, the Pacers shot .434 and had more turnovers (23) than assists, but found a groove in a 31-point fourth quarter. They outrebounded the Hornets 58-44.
"I wasn't pleased about the turnovers, but when you're running the ball and getting it up the floor the way we are, you're going to have a few more than usual," Thomas said. "Our movement was good. We got good shots, good looks and I was especially pleased with the way we defended."
There's not too much to complain about, but I'm sure I'll find something."
Individually, the Pacers enjoyed a number of encouraging performances. Center Brad Miller dominated the Hornets' shorthanded front line, scoring 22 points and pulling 10 rebounds. Jermaine O'Neal had 10 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots. Jonathan Bender had 13 points and seven rebounds. Erick Strickland came off the bench for nine points, seven rebounds and four assists. In his first game back after knee surgery in February, Al Harrington started at small forward and played 31 minutes.
The Pacers were without starters Reggie Miller, who was resting his sprained right ankle, and Ron Artest, who was undergoing a followup examination on his surgically repaired pinky finger on his right hand. Both players could also miss the rematch between the teams Thursday night in Evansville, IN.
New Orleans was missing two starters, power forward P.J. Brown (left ankle) and center Elden Campbell (left knee) and reserve Matt Bullard (back). Jamal Mashburn scored 17, David Wesley 12, Courtney Alexander 11 and Baron Davis 10 for the Hornets.