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Sitting un-pretty

Pacers aren't the Lakers, but that's fine with them

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Posted: Wednesday June 07, 2000 02:14 PM

By John Donovan,

Hot Hands, Cold Feet
Swishes & Bricks

This is a special edition of the NBA Week at a Glance. It will appear every day until the NBA Finals conclude.

LOS ANGELES -- The Indiana Pacers, if you listen to some people, are just plain butt-ugly. They're old, too, and slow.

They play that hideous brand of Eastern Conference boreball, and they don't stand a chance against the glitzy, spiffy Los Angeles Lakers.

"They definitely have the younger team. They definitely have the prettier team," Pacers guard Mark Jackson said. "But that's not what it's about."

No, the Pacers figure they have a chance in the NBA Finals, which finally start on Wednesday night if you've lost track, because it isn't about perceptions. It's about reality.
SI's Marty Burns

The Lakers better have their seat belts fastened because the Pacers are going to come out firing in Game 1. Indiana coach Larry Bird knows his team must steal one of the first two games in L.A. to have a realistic shot of beating the Lakers. With the Lakers coming off a grueling seven- game series against Portland, this might be the Pacers' best chance.

Things to watch for:

Fatigue factor : The Lakers might not be physically tired from the Blazers series, but they could be mentally drained. L.A. must be focused at the start -- especially on their defensive rotations -- or else Shaq could pick up early fouls trying to stop penetration.

Shaq on Davis : If Rik Smits or Sam Perkins tries to lure Shaq out of the lane, L.A. might counter by putting Shaq on Dale Davis and letting A.C. Green defend Indiana's big man. If so, look for the Pacers to post up the smaller Green to take advantage.

Screen and roll : The Pacers will also try to lure Shaq out of the lane by feeding him a steady diet of high screen-and-roll, especially when Travis Best is in the game. L.A. will counter by using Derek Fisher -- or maybe Kobe Bryant -- to guard Best and by using traps to get the ball out of Best's hands.

The reality is the Pacers have beaten the Lakers once this season. The Pacers have the best team in the East, a conference that will test any team's mettle.

And, really now, since when is a team with a dominant center -- a powerful, athletic, bust-'em-in-the-blocks center -- considered all that pretty?

You see the Lakers play lately? For all the mysteries and charms of the triangle offense, the Lakers want to get the ball to Shaquille O'Neal in the low post in the halfcourt offense more than just about anything else.

Still, it is the Lakers who are considered the dream team in the NBA Finals.

"You take the three best players in this series, and they have two of them," explained Jackson, putting O'Neal and L.A.'s Kobe Bryant among the beautiful people. The third, ostensibly, was Indiana's Reggie Miller who, by the way, went to UCLA.

The Lakers are younger, for sure. They have six players over 30. The Pacers have seven.

The Pacers probably are slower, too, though if it's going to be a halfcourt game, as the Lakers want, then both age and speed up and down the court are certainly less of a factor.

That brings us back to prettiness. And that, of course, is all perception.

Mark Jackson points to O'Neal, who punctuated the win over Portland in the Western Conference finals with an alley-oop dunk, then bolted wide-eyed down to the other end in one of the most memorable moments of the playoffs.

Wouldn't happen with the Pacers, Jackson joked.

"If our guy dunks it," Jackson said, referring to Indiana center Rik Smits, "he's going to concentrate on getting his steps right coming up the court."

On to the NBA Finals Day at a Glance, which on the day of Game 1 of this baby asks: Do you love L.A.?

The answer: Seems like everyone around here does.

The Killer Instinct
Do the Lakers have it? They've shown they can come back. Now they have to show that they won't give a team a chance to get up on them in the first place.
What's the Point?
Jackson has his drawbacks, the Lakers' Ron Harper or Derek Fisher or whoever have theirs ... This doesn't seem to be a series that will be won on the point. Unless, of course, that point gets the ball into O'Neal on a consistent basis.
Smits and Shaq
We don't want to call this a matchup because, you know, it's not. But someone's going to have to stop Shaq. And Smits is choice No. 1 for the Pacers.
Defend and Steal
All the Lakers want to do is defend their homecourt advantage, and they'll have their first title since 1988. All the Pacers want to do is steal one in L.A., defend their homecourt in Game 3-5 and they'll have their first title since ... well, ever.
Hot Hands and Cold Feet
HOT: Shaquille O'Neal
He may get a "Hot" a few times. We're just warning you. This one's for what he did against Indiana in two games this season: 26.5 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 41.5 minutes of H-E-double-you-know-what.
HOT: Reggie Miller
Yeah, he could be a red typeface guy, too. The Indy sharpshooter upped his scoring in the playoffs by an average of more than 5.5 points a game (to 23.8). That's clutch.
COLD: Austin Croshere
Please, no shag jokes. Though he can still break out at any time, he's been limited to 7.4 points a game in the playoffs, down from his 10.3 during the regular season.
This may not be the resurgence of "Showtime," but this city wants badly to have a team to root for before leaving early. And, what, the Dodgers? Or Angels? Maybe the Raiders? With O'Neal and Bryant, these Lakers will do just fine.
The Finals. It takes a while to get here, and maybe the games are not the best all the time. But some of the world's best basketball players -- and, in this, maybe the world's best two teams -- are here. That's not bad. Down
Game 1. Always a scene-setter, and always important for head games, if nothing else. The Pacers have something to prove, the Lakers want to slap down the upstarts. Always interesting, if not always well-played. Down
Fouls. In Game 1, with Shaq trying to claim his turf, you'll hear the whistles blown plenty. In fact, the only thing you may hear more of in this game is Rik Smits and the Pacers complaining about them. Up
Free throws. The Pacers are making better than 81 percent of their free throws in the playoffs. Mark Jackson hasn't missed one (12-for-12) and Reggie Miller is around 92 percent. Take notice, big man. Up
Swishes and Bricks
Staples Center
Swish : It's new, luxurious and the home of the Lakers.
Brick : It ain't the Great anything, is it?
The Triangle Offense
Swish : Passing, movement, good shots, no set plays ... just beautiful basketball.
Brick : Just another fancied up way to get it into Shaq on the low post.
Double teams
Swish : Part of the game, especially when you have a behemoth like Shaq underneath.
Brick : Illegal defense calls out the wazoo.
Rik Smits
Swish : Pretty shot, clever underneath, nice outside shot, a scorer when he's healthy.
Brick : Bad knees, bad feet, can't run, can't jump.

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