News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Given to Fly

November 4, 2006

Given to fly: Can Pacers’ true character be revealed?

TERRE HAUTE — “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” — The great John Wooden, former UCLA and Indiana State basketball coach.

Larry Bird, as we all know a man of high-caliber character, said in 2005 that it would take the Indiana Pacers a year or more to overcome that night in Detroit.

He probably wishes he wasn’t so right about that.

Bird’s not-so-simple job, now two seasons after the season ruined by the basket-brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, was to re-tool a roster that is trying to overcome the Ron Artest situation.

Following up an injury-plagued 2005-06 season, these new athletic, up-tempo Pacers aren’t an NBA Finals caliber team. Unwatchable, some say after a glimpse of the preseason.

But not unlike Bird, Indiana basketball fans expect nothing less than a quality team that can contend for a championship.

While the Pacers are trying to spin the expectations to a calmer level this year, the expectations of the paying customers hasn’t changed.

According to 4,566 Pacers’ fans who voted in a poll on Pacers.com, 33 percent of fans expect 45-49 wins; 28 percent expect 50-54 wins; and 23 percent expect 55 or more wins. So one in five fans anticipate the Pacers going from a .500 season back to approaching the 61-win season of 2004-05. Bartender, pour those fans a drink.

If healthy, the Pacers have talent rivaling any team in a once again improved Eastern Conference, but they don’t have players with a championship temperament (see Duncan, Tim; Wade, Dwayne; O’Neal, Shaquille; Hamilton, Richard).

Some of the coverage of the Pacers has included mentions of the 2007 NBA lottery. The Pacers scratched and clawed to make the playoffs last year with their starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley actually starting 27 games and Jermaine O’Neal starting 47 of the 82-game slate. So forget about the lottery if those two are healthy.

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