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Monday, June 12, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 150

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No need for brooms

Pacers dodge sweep, Lakers miss Bryant

Sports Opinion

Justin Taillon

The National Basketball Association Finals were not expected to be all that close, but the first two games of this year's finals turned out to be catastrophic for the Eastern Conference Champions, the Indiana Pacers.

The series was to feature the unstoppable sharpshooter Reggie Miller and the blue-collar Pacers against Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and the ferocious Lakers.

The first game of the series showcased a 1-for-15 performance from Miller against the league's most valuable player, Shaquille O'Neal, who is dominating everything, with Kobe Bryant sidelined with an injury.

Bryant, whose life has recently become the obsession of many (the 21-year-old recently became engaged to a high school senior), has everyone wondering, what is up with his ankle?

He still remains day-to-day for the remainder of the series after X-rays came out negative for Los Angeles' star shooting guard.

Since being added to the NBA in 1976 after being a charter member of the American Basketball Association, the Indiana Pacers have never made it to the Finals. This makes this series even more important for the Indiana Pacers. Although two teams in history have come back to win after being down 2-0, no team has come back from being down 3-0 in the lengthy history of the NBA. Which is why a win last night came at the right time.

But what do the Pacers need to accomplish in order to win game four?

First of all, they need to stop Shaquille O'Neal.

France's Maginot Line, which the Germans simply sprinted around to start World War II, was more effective than the Pacers' defense has been against Shaq.

Everybody on the Pacers' bench is just fouling out, including Indiana center Rik Smits, and the MVP is making three-point plays like there is no tomorrow. This from a guy shooting a little more than 50 percent from the free-throw line.

For those who are not keeping up with the series, Shaq has taken the Pacers for 83 points and 44 rebounds in only the first two games of work.

The 7-1, 330-pound man-mountain is manhandling the Pacers in every way.

"He's catching the ball so deep in the blocks he's nearly on the other side of the basket," Pacers head coach Larry Bird told reporters before the third quarter of game two.

Some of the Pacers will be trying a new strategy in this game and I do not mean just letting him score at will.

"When he gets the ball down close to the basket, as opposed to standing right behind him, you have to try to move around and get in front of him," guard-forward Jalen Rose said before Indiana's 111-106 loss to the Lakers on Friday.

The Pacers need to study some of the tapes from the Portland series, where O'Neal was halted slightly.

The quickness brought to the floor by players such as Scottie Pippen and Rasheed Wallace quickly gained the Lakers' respect, and they were forced to use players other than the colossal Shaquille O'Neal.

Do not believe for one second the Pacers only weakness against the Lakers is the defense against O'Neal, even though it is the main problem.

The Pacers seem to forget that they have to attack as well as defend, which shows throughout their game. This causes them to go through cold streaks, which can last for several minutes.

Getting to the line has also been a problem for the Pacers, especially for team captain Reggie Miller, who is 93 percent from the line in his career, but has only taken 11 free throws in the first two games.

On his behalf, he has made all 11 of his attempts.

The Pacers as a whole are 83 percent free-throw shooters, yet are not getting to the charity strip in the finals, especially when it counts.

They need to be much more aggressive, especially down low.

Maybe the Pacers should listen to their coach during time outs a little more.

"So what if (Shaq) is a pretty good shot blocker," Bird said. "Get down there and draw the foul."

Just to show I am not berating only the Pacers, I would like to show the one bright spot, in my opinion, on their side.  Austin Croshere, a back-up forward, has managed 40 points in the two games with limited playing time.

Maybe Bird should consider getting him more looks at the basket so Miller can sit down and think about what he is doing out there.

There is good news for the Pacers. They are 36-5 at home this season and 7-2 in the postseason.

Nonetheless, the Pacers are still down 2-1 to one of the most powerful and dominant teams in the history of basketball.
 
 

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