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Try, try again

Pacers still attempting to solve their big problem

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Posted: Saturday June 10, 2000 07:37 PM

  Rik Smits Shaquille O'Neal has bruised his way to 83 points and 43 rebounds against an anemic Pacer defense. AP

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Let's see: Hack-a-Shaq didn't work. Getting plenty of points from Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose didn't work. Dragging out seldom-used Zan Tabak didn't work.

Is there any way to stop Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers, even if Kobe Bryant misses Game 3?

"We're definitely going to need some home cooking," Reggie Miller said after practice on Saturday. "We let a golden opportunity slip in Game 2, but this is an opportunity for us to try to somewhat get into the series in Game 3. We didn't have a 36-5 record at home for nothing."

The biggest question mark heading into Sunday's game will be the availability of Bryant, who sprained his left ankle in the first quarter of Game 2 and did not return.

"It feels a lot better than it did yesterday," Bryant said. "Yesterday, I couldn't even walk on it. Today, I can put a little bit of pressure on it, so it feels a lot better.

"I'm going to be icing it, doing my therapy, making sure my flexibility is there. Pretty much, that's what I'm going to be doing all day long," he said. "Right now, I'm just taking it as it comes, focusing on my therapy. Tomorrow, I'll be able to tell better if I'll be able to play."

The Pacers tried something radically different against the Lakers in Game 2, sending O'Neal to the free-throw line a record 39 times. They fouled him early, they fouled him late -- boy, they really fouled him late -- and they watched him shoot foul shots so ugly that Chris Dudley must have been laughing.

O'Neal knocked at least five foul shots into the front of the rim, as if he were throwing darts.

He missed 21 of his 39 free throws, gaining no strength from the celebrity-worshiping locals chanting, "M-V-P, M-V-P." You could have spelled MVP at center court with all the paint Shaq chipped off the front of the rim.

"I started off kind of slow. But the good thing about starting slow is you can only get better," Shaq said after practice at Conseco Fieldhouse. "If we keep doing what we've been doing, I like our chances. But we can't be too confident coming into this building."

Game 3 could be a watershed moment for the Lakers -- an opportunity for them to go up 3-0 in the finals, taking the first step toward perhaps becoming the next NBA dynasty.

Only two teams, the 1969 Celtics and the 1977 Trail Blazers, have come back from 2-0 deficits to win the championship, and no team has ever won all three middle games since the NBA adopted the 2-3-2 format in 1985.

Indiana went 36-5 at home during the regular season at Conseco Fieldhouse, tying the Lakers for the best home record in the league.

"We're very disappointed in the way we played these last two games, but our confidence isn't shaken," Jalen Rose said. "We understand we have what it takes to beat L.A. It's just a matter of going out and playing like we're the best team on our home floor, and obviously we need to establish that."

O'Neal is averaging 41.5 points in the series, putting him on track to be the first player to average 40 or more in a championship series since Michael Jordan in 1993 against the Phoenix Suns.

And while O'Neal got his points, what killed the Pacers in Game 2 was their failure to stop Glen Rice from outside or Ron Harper on the drive. Both scored 21 points, with Rice making five 3-pointers to match Indiana's team total.

"When you lose a key player like that, what you have to do is come together collectively and work a little harder," Rice said. "A lot of people see me as the third option, and without Kobe, there seemed to be more things happening for me out there."

The absence of Bryant didn't have much of an effect on Indiana's defensive strategy, which was geared almost entirely toward containing O'Neal. The Pacers put a body on O'Neal as quickly as possible, trying to prevent him from setting up shop in the low post, and sent a second defender scooting over to help out the instant O'Neal got his hands on the ball.

When O'Neal turned to shoot, the fouls came hard and harder. With three minutes left, the Pacers didn't wait for O'Neal to get the ball. They simply grabbed him as soon as the Lakers inbounded, daring the 49-percent free-throw shooter to beat them one foul shot at a time.

The strategy had to be abandoned in the final two minutes because of a rule that awards a one-shot foul and possession if a player is fouled away from the ball.

After Portland employed a similar strategy in the Western Conference finals, some called for a change in the rules.

O'Neal doesn't care, as long as all the variations of the Hack-a-Shaq defense keep failing.

"I've always been a society guy," he said. "I just have to live with the rules."

Related information
Pacers' Miller disappears in Game 2 loss
Lakers' Bryant sprains ankle, listed as day-to-day
Lakers hold home court with 111-104 win over Pacers
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