Indiana finally picks up pace in playoffs

On The NBA

May 16, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

It took the anticipation of the playoffs for the Indiana Pacers to finally become interested in the NBA season.

After sleepwalking for most of the regular season -- during which the Pacers had just one 20-point win for almost the first three months -- Indiana has had wins of 23, 22 and 22 points in its past five games.

That includes blowouts over New York and Cleveland in the last two games of the regular season and a 22-point win over Milwaukee in the opener of their first-round playoff series. Indiana completed a three-game sweep of the Bucks on Thursday night.

The Pacers have won seven straight, including the last four games of the regular season, and extended their home-court winning streak in the postseason to 10 games. They are winning despite the struggles of 7-foot-4 center Rik Smits, who, facing constant double teams and physical play, scored 22 points in the opening round.

Indiana is getting help from different areas, with Dale Davis and Jalen Rose providing extra offense in the first two games of the series and Reggie Miller scoring 33 -- including five three-pointers -- in Thursday's clincher.

One of Indiana's biggest concerns entering the playoffs was not being assured of home-court advantage beyond the first round. But with Miami and Orlando at risk of not advancing, the Pacers could regain home court for the conference semifinals.

"We don't have time to celebrate," point guard Mark Jackson said after ousting the Bucks. "This is something minor for us.

"We didn't come into the playoffs to advance to the second round. The only time to celebrate is at the end, when we're the only team standing."

Payton heading out?

With the Seattle SuperSonics failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 1990, All-Star point guard Gary Payton said he'd like to play elsewhere if the team fails to get help during the off-season.

"If you don't want to listen, then get me out of here," Payton told the Seattle Times last week, referring to the Sonics' front office. "If things don't improve, I'm done with it."

After averaging more than 60 wins in the previous five seasons, the Sonics finished .500 in the lockout-shortened season and were beaten out by Minnesota for the final playoff spot. The departure of coach George Karl (he feuded with general manager Wally Walker) and a miserable season by All-Star forward Vin Baker contributed to the team's struggles.

Payton said he's sorry he has kept quiet for so long.

"Compare me to a lot of stars around the league," Payton said. "They make a lot more noise than I do. I should have been doing that a long time ago. But I've been quiet, trying to be a good guy, and it's backfired on me.

"So I'm going to go in there and tell the guys what I want. If it's not what they like, then get rid of me. I've been trying to be nice for so long. All I've gotten is negativity toward me."

Payton didn't say whether his needs include a new coach. Several Sonics tuned out on Paul Westphal, who replaced Karl. The Sonics need a starting center, as Olden Polynice is not likely to return.

Around the league

Here's a little bulletin-board material, should the San Antonio Spurs face the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round. Spurs guard Mario Elie told reporters last week that he preferred to face the Lakers instead of the Houston Rockets.

"[People] have been hyping those guys all year," Elie said. "The way Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal] talks, it's like he's got 10 banners, and he doesn't even have one even though they got `the best post player, the best young player and the best shooter.' "

Indiana's sweep of Milwaukee proved the importance of experience as an intangible. Indiana's starting five had 324 games of playoff experience, and Milwaukee's starters had 55 games -- all by Sam Cassell. In fact, 52 of Cassell's 55 playoff games came in his first three seasons with the Rockets.

"As a team, we didn't know the intensity level that you have to play in a playoff game," Bucks forward Glenn Robinson said after Game 1. "It was probably a wake-up call for us."

Pat Croce, the passionate president and part owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, missed his team's playoff opener to be the commencement speaker at West Chester (Pa.) University. Croce had made the commitment two years ago.

"A promise is a promise," Croce said. "A commitment is a commitment."

Remember Luc Longley, starting center for the Chicago Bulls' championship teams? A year later, Longley was playing so poorly for Phoenix that he didn't even start Game 3 of the first-round series against Portland, when he played 14 minutes. Longley made two of 12 shots in the series, and the Suns were swept.

"I came in here for the playoffs," an upset Longley said after the series. "And I want to perform, you know?"

In that series, Blazers guard Isaiah Rider gave himself many props after returning from a leg injury in Game 3. After Rider left the game, a 62-48 Portland lead turned into a 70-67 deficit. Rider returned and played seven minutes and didn't score a field goal, yet he took credit for the win.

"I was the reason why we starting playing well again," Rider said. "Our bodies were looking scared, tentative. I got us hyped. I kept up together. I was the motivator. Yes, I was definitely Willis Reed."

Portland ended its NBA record streak of losing in the first round for six straight years. The Game 3 win in Phoenix ended a 14-game playoff road losing streak.

Quotable

"I might've had a buzzard in my stomach."

-- Allen Iverson, 76ers guard, when asked if he had butterflies in his first playoff game.

Pub Date: 5/16/99

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