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A shaky big man
Indiana's Smits struggles with shooting touch, confidence
Posted: Wednesday June 14, 2000 11:38 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
This is a special edition of the NBA Week at a Glance. It will appear every day until the NBA Finals conclude.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Confidence is a funny thing with an athlete.
You have to have it. You have to use it. And, even when you don't have it, you have to act like you have it.
It doesn't work that way for Rik Smits, though, the quiet good-guy center for the Indiana Pacers. His confidence rises and falls like the arc of his shot.
Right now, it's clanging off the rim.
| SI's Marty Burns |
Kobe Bryant probably will return for Game 4, but will the Lakers offense? Glen Rice is sulking, Brian Shaw can't seem to make an open shot, and the Pacers seem to be getting the hang of this double-team thing. Indiana will score at home, so the Lakers will probably need to put up at least 95 points to win.
Here's how they'll try to do it:
Go Green: The Lakers might try to make Indiana pay for dropping a guard into Shaq's lap on the entry pass by using A.C. Green more as an entry passer and stationing Rice and Bryant on the weakside. The taller Green should be able to get the ball to Shaq, while Rice and Bryant are better suited to hit open jumpers on ball reversal.
Steamed Rice: Phil Jackson has a knack for getting unhappy players back into the fold by giving them a chance to work their way out of it on the court. Just ask Scottie Pippen. Here's betting the Lakers make a special effort to find Rice early, and get him some good looks.
Get a body on 'em: The Lakers allowed Indiana a lot of second shots in Game 3, mostly because they let the Pacers crash the offensive boards. Look for them to make a concerted effort in Game 4 to get bodies on Indiana's big men.
"If I miss a couple shots, have a couple bad games, I have trouble with my confidence," Smits admitted as he readied for a recent practice before Wednesday night's Game 4 of the NBA Finals. "I'm sure it's not the highest it's been."
In fact, Smits may be approaching an all-time low in the confidence department, certainly if his shooting has anything to do with it. So far in the Finals, Smits has been a non-factor, averaging 7.3 points on 34 percent shooting. And, for a guy 7-foot-4, he's only gone to the free-throw line twice and is averaging just over four rebounds a game.
The biggest problem for Smits, of course, is the man across the lane from him. Or, more accurately, the one in his face. Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal has given Smits fits, scoring at will (38.7 points a game), rebounding ferociously (almost 19 a game) and providing some nasty defense (almost three blocks a game).
O'Neal has outscored Smits in the Finals, 116-22.
"I don't think it's him," said Smits, a native of Holland. "It's definitely me. The last couple games, I just think about it too much."
The Pacers have made a concerted effort to get the ball early to Smits to pump up his confidence. Smits' ability to make long-range shots -- he's comfortable almost anywhere within, say, 19 feet -- is a key component in drawing O'Neal away from the basket and getting other Indiana players better shots.
But if he can't hit those shots, it doesn't matter. He was 3-for-11 in Game 3, a 100-91 Pacers' win, and was just 5-for-12 in Game 1, won by the Lakers.
Smits, hampered by sore ankles and a sore back and suffering through a chronic case of bad feet, has been plagued by early foul trouble, too, as quicker centers and stronger ones like O'Neal pound him inside.
Again, if he'd hit a few early shots, O'Neal would have to come outside and play Smits and there'd be less pounding, at least when the Pacers had the ball.
"We got to try to get him in the scoring area and score some baskets," Indiana coach Larry Bird said. "It seems like he's out of synch ... We need him to be in there. We need his size. We need him to be a bigger part than what he is right now."
Smits has averaged 14.8 points a game over his 11-year career and is a career .507 shooter. There is reason plenty for his confidence to be high.
Instead, he talks about retiring after this season, about helping to coach a high school or college team. Yet he even wavers on that because he knows, after all these years, that his shooting touch could come back and his confidence could soar again.
All it would take is one good game.
"My confidence can go up and down in the course of a game," Smits admitted. "That's the thing with me: If I hit a couple shots early, I can really get going."
On to the NBA Finals Day at a Glance, which on the day of Game 4 wonders: Why can't the Lakers all just get along?
The answer: They're the Lakers.
|Hopalong Kobe |
|Take away the best part of Kobe Bryant's game -- his amazing athleticism -- and what do you have? Well, we'll find out Wednesday night.|
|Turning Point for Pacers |
|After Wednesday night, they're either right back in this thing or knocking on elimination's door. |
|The Unsung |
|Smits, Glen Rice, Mark Jackson, Brian Shaw ... there are a handful of guys who haven't yet stepped up who can change the direction of this series. |
|On the Boards |
|With Shaquille O'Neal, it's tough to get an edge on the Lakers in this department. But a key offensive rebound here or there goes a long ways. ||
| HOT: Dale Davis |
Speaking of rebounding, this guy can do it for the Pacers. His 11 offensive boards in this series ranks second only to you-know-who.
| COLD: Downtown Reggie |
Maybe it's just because he's having a difficult time getting off shots. Whatever, Indiana's Miller is just 3-for-15 (.200) behind the arc.
| HOT: Mark Jackson |
Maybe not on the court, maybe not so far, but when the Pacers' point guard hangs up his sneaks and goes into coaching, teams should be lining up to get him on their bench.
| COLD: Shaq on the Line |
An indication of how bad O'Neal's free-throw shooting is: No one else, on either team, is shooting less than .667. Shaq is at .379.
| Kobe Bryant. If there's going to be a next big star in the NBA, non-Shaquille division, Bryant could make a strong bid with a good performance in Game 4. He already gets The Glance's vote.
| Shaquille O'Neal. For all the grief we give him about free-throw shooting, this is one 7-foot-1 stand-up guy. He oughta think about standup, too, the way he has the scribes howling in laughter.
| Glen Rice. Even with a good game in Game 4 -- and that's entirely possible -- Rice comes off as a crybaby not interested in the team in his latest "Give me more PT" rant.
| The NBA Rules. Did you hear? They're getting rid of another timeout. Why didn't they listen to us from the start?
| "Must-Wins" |
| Swish : They add to the tension that already seems palpable in this series.|
Brick : Aren't they all "must-win" games?
| Hack-A-Shaq |
| Swish : The players, almost to a man, hate the idea.|
Brick : But the Pacers, at least, can see its worth.
| Kevin Johnson |
| Swish : We heard him the other day on TV. He did OK. Really.|
Brick : That halftime show is like watching a pack of dogs scramble after a single T-bone.
| Swish : No question, the Pacers have shown more of the stuff.|
Brick : That's not always good.
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