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Some think the Pacers are probably distracted by the Artest affair, but I don't think that's the real problem.
Rather, I think this situation creates two other problems.
First, they just can't put their best team on the floor. This team was built to be a big, strong, physical team, based on the post play of Jermaine O'Neal and the all-around play of Ron Artest.
Suddenly, the Pacers are a lot smaller. Instead of the 6-7, 260-pound Artest at "small" forward, the Pacers are using Stephen Jackson, a natural two guard.
Jackson is a good player -- but not only is he out of position, but he's miscast now as a primary scorer. He's a solid third scorer, the kind of guy who can get you 15 a night. Now he'll be expected to get more like 20 a night, and that's not really the kind of player he is.
Likewise, the Pacers are now smaller at the two guard spot, with Jackson forced over to the forward spot.
Overall, this creates mismatches against them, and hurts their ability to defend and rebound. The Pacers are built on defense and rebounding -- the things that Artest does well. Now the Pacers just aren't doing those things as well.
The second problem is that the absence of Artest, especially as he just sits out without being replaced, is demoralizing.
This was a team that had championship aspirations -- for two years they've been expecting to be a title contender. Now, for the second year in a row, they have to settle for being just another team. Sure, they can make the playoffs, but that's not what they had in mind when they started the season.
Also, they have to feel somewhat betrayed by the front office. No doubt the organization is doing what it can to make a good trade. But not only did the front office bring Artest back, but they also have been unable to make a move so far to help the team. That makes it difficult, both in basketball terms and in terms of morale, for the players who are actually playing.
Coach Rick Carlisle has done about as much as a coach can to handle these two issues. He's a strong tactician, and he knows how to keep a team moving in the right direction.
But, let's face it. Without Ron Artest, this just isn't the Indiana Pacers that anyone, including the Pacers, expected.
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• Dimes Past: January 1 | 3 | 4 | 5
Curry Better Than A Lottery Pick
"It would be an awkward moment for the Knicks, to forfeit the only benefit of a poor season. But team officials still believe that Curry is a better asset than anyone who might be drafted No. 1 in June. It is a debate that only Curry can settle, and on this point he will suppress his usual modesty. 'Definitely,' a smiling Curry said, when asked if he was better than the top prospects in the draft. 'No question.' The discussion could be made moot if the Knicks (8-21) can somehow reverse their fortunes over the next four months. Appropriately, Curry could have the greatest influence on their fate, if he can merely stay healthy and productive." -- New York Times
Fans To Cuban: Pump Up The Volume
"During the Dec. 30 game against Golden State, Mark Cuban silenced every last note of ear-splitting music that's normally incessantly piped in over the Mavs' PA system -- a direct response to a remark NBA commissioner David Stern made last month about the abundance of artificial noise filling the league's arenas. The experiment triggered a decisive fan reaction directed to Cuban's inbox. 'Ten to 1 for the music,' Cuban said." -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Camby Hopes To Play By End Of The Month
"While his teammates take things one game at a time, Denver Nuggets center Marcus Camby is looking ahead. Camby, who broke his right pinkie Dec. 26, said Thursday he wants to return to the lineup before the end of the month. He is scheduled to visit the doctor next week. 'I want to play in January,' he said." -- Rocky Mountain News
Tracy McGrady, Rockets forward: In the battle with Bron, T-Mac notched 34 points in a 90-81 win in Cleveland. Teammates Rafer Alston and Juwan Howard had excellent games, too.
Derek Fisher, Warriors guard: Spent 33 minutes on the floor in the Pacers' game. That was part of the problem. Missed all eight of his shots. Three turnovers. Team loses 99-89. Rats.
Quote of the Day
"You can't stop him. You can only hope to contain him and hold the others. "
-- LeBron James, evaluating Tracy McGrady after Thursday's game.
-- Andrew Ayres
LeBron James tells Chris Broussard about "Glory Road", and his title aims:
"Missing the playoffs the past two seasons was the motivation. I've been used to being an automatic winner, just going onto the court knowing no team could beat us. But my first year in the league, I didn't feel that way. Now I'm at a point where I feel like every time we play, we're going to win.
I'm not saying I know we're going to win a championship this year. That takes time. It took Jordan seven years, Shaq eight. If we keep getting better, I don't think I'll have to wait eight years."
Tracy McGrady outscored LeBron James 34-32 in the Rockets' 90-81 victory in Cleveland (watch the highlight video below). McGrady has scored an average of 35.7 points per game in his last seven games against the Cavs, and he has outscored James in each of their six meetings. Total points in those games: McGrady 211, James 134.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Vincent (Boston): Should the Celtics trade Paul Pierce for a No. 1 pick and I would like to see Danny Ainge resign. Thoughts?Chad Ford: Pierce is having a great year and I'm sure he's frustrated that the Celtics aren't playing better. I've went back and forth on the C's trading Pierce and have come to this conclusion ... unless they can get back equal value for him (and I don't think they can) why trade him?
The team is already young enough so I'm not sure that the draft picks will really help. It's nice to have young players, but not too many. As it stands, some of their young guys aren't getting enough minutes anyway. As for Ainge resigning, I don't think so. He's made some mistakes, but overall I think he's a good GM.
I was beginning to wonder if any of the current players' signature shoes will ever touch Jordan's, and this year, there seems to be a bumper crop.
LeBron's new Nikes are by far his freshest yet, and from what I understand, they are experiencing MJ-like sales. His commercials are tight too.
I'm also feeling McGrady's new line of Adidas, the T-Mac 5s. Tracy had them put a piece of hardwood in the heel.
"We play on wood, and I always take a piece of that with me," McGrady said. "So we installed some wood in here, and I always will have the game with me wherever I go."