J. O'Neal makes impact with leadership skills

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

February 29, 2004|By MILTON KENT

Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has seen Jermaine O'Neal come a long way since Carlisle coached O'Neal in the Utah summer league in 1996 when both were with the Portland Trail Blazers.

So, when Carlisle hears that O'Neal believes his leadership is the best part of his game, the coach isn't surprised.

"I believe that Jermaine realizes at this point in time in his career and where this team is, a lot of the most valuable tangible things he can bring to this team are stability and leadership," Carlisle said recently. "To me, this year, he's really helped guys around him become better."

Carlisle says O'Neal, on the short list of candidates for NBA Most Valuable Player, has helped center Jeff Foster develop the confidence that he belongs in the starting lineup, where he landed when the Pacers traded Brad Miller in the offseason.

And O'Neal played a key role in helping Ron Artest control his passions and become an All-Star forward.

"He's been a constant in terms of being the source of encouragement for our younger guys," Carlisle said. "Those types of things don't show up in the stats or in the box score, but ... they are essential if you're going to be a winning team."

For the 6-foot-11 O'Neal, who sat largely unused on the Portland bench for four years until he was traded to Indiana in 2000, becoming the leader of the Pacers, the Eastern Conference's top team, is because Reggie Miller let him lead.

"Once I got to Indiana ... [I] was able to watch Reggie Miller not only talk about it, but he practices what he preaches," said O'Neal, who was 15th in the NBA in scoring and ninth in rebounding before last night's games. "Every day, it's about basketball, and it's about what you do off the court that can make everybody else around you take to you and make everybody else that's around you better.

"Right now, he's kind of passed the torch, and two years ago, before the New Jersey series, he told me that we would go as far as I took them and that meant a lot to me. To hear that from a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players to ever play the game and to have him say that to me at that particular point, that meant a lot to me."

With Artest out of the lineup indefinitely with a wrist injury, the mantle of leadership will likely fall harder on O'Neal. Chances are pretty good that his shoulders will be able to handle it.

Quiz

Gilbert Arenas' second triple double of the season was the second by a Washington Wizards player in the past five years. Who was the last Wizard to get a triple double before Arenas?

Officials under fire

It's safe to say that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has been harping about the accountability of NBA referees, has gained an ally in Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose Nuggets may have lost a game because of an official's mistake.

The Nuggets lost, 112-111, to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night after official Michael Henderson erroneously called a 24-second violation against Denver near the end of the game.

Henderson, in his second year in the NBA, has been taken out of the officiating rotation until he meets with Stu Jackson, the league's senior vice president for basketball operations, sometime next week. The league issued a public apology to the Nuggets for the call the next day, but not soon enough to please Bzdelik.

"They told me it's an inadvertent whistle, their mistake. They felt bad. They can walk away. They're on to the next city. There's no `L' or `W' next to their names," Bzdelik told the Denver Post after the game.

On the play, with the Nuggets leading by two, Andre Miller took a jumper that hit the rim and was rebounded by Carmelo Anthony. However, Henderson called the violation, thinking the ball hadn't touched the rim. After consulting with the other two officials, Henderson said he had blown the whistle incorrectly and ruled a jump ball, which Shaquille O'Neal won.

The Lakers converted a three-pointer from Kareem Rush with 3.2 seconds left to escape with a win. Add that play to one the same night in Houston where the officials forgot a free throw in a game between the Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers and you get the sense that NBA referees are starting to fall asleep at the switch.

The league has been handing out hefty fines against players and coaches who rebel against referees, but declines to say when officials are punished for mistakes or misconduct. For instance, while Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was fined $7,500 for failing to leave the floor quickly after a game against the Pacers, we don't know if referee Leon Wood, a former player who jawed with Jordan, was also fined. The Rocky Mountain News reported that Henderson was suspended three games, but that announcement came from an angry referees' union, not from Jackson.

Perhaps the league should make referee punishments public, as well as consider expanding the use of instant replay to correct mistakes as well as catch things at the end of quarters.

Quiz answer

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