Originally created 10/11/05

Pacers to open preseason fully loaded



INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Pacers are ready to open the preseason with most of their regular lineup.

Tuesday's game at New Jersey will be the first for Ron Artest since the infamous brawl with Detroit Pistons fans last November. He was suspended for the final 73 games of the regular season and the playoffs. Stephen Jackson missed 30 games and Jermaine O'Neal was suspended for 15 games for their roles in the brawl.

Nagging injuries could keep O'Neal, Danny Granger and David Harrison out of the preseason opener, and Jeff Foster will miss the game due to a sore right hip.

With the suspensions behind them, the Pacers will be trying to refine their chemistry and start winning skeptical fans back. Indiana was expected to contend for the NBA title last season, but wound up 44-38 and lost to Detroit in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Pacers feel they owe their fans something after what happened last season.

"There's a lot of fans in this state that are on the ropes as far as which way they want to go," O'Neal said.

The Pacers still have the core of the team that went 61-21 two years ago, except for the retired Reggie Miller. With O'Neal at power forward, Artest at small forward and Jackson at shooting guard, three starting spots are virtual locks.

Perhaps the most compelling battle for playing time will be at point guard. Jamaal Tinsley is the returning starter, but the Pacers signed Lithuanian Euroleague star Sarunas Jasikevicius in the offseason.

Tinsley averaged a career-high 15.4 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, but played just 40 games due to injuries.

Jasikevicius won three championships in seven years one of the world's most competitive leagues. O'Neal already has called him a player the Pacers can trust in clutch situations.

Anthony Johnson also could be a factor. He stepped in at the point when Tinsley was out and averaged 6.1 assists.

At center, Harrison, Foster and Scot Pollard are trying to round out the lineup. Pollard will start against the Nets while Foster nurses a sore right hip and Harrison fights through sore ribs. Harrison missed most of last season after having surgery on his left knee, but he came back to average 14.8 points in the Minnesota Summer League.

The Pacers' depth could be a strength, considering the reserves tied the starters in a scrimmage Sunday.

Granger, the team's first-round draft pick, could get his first chance in a game on Tuesday. He was the second-leading scorer in the scrimmage, but has a sprained right ankle that has him listed as doubtful on the team's injury report.

Tinsley said Granger and Jasikevicius performed well during training camp.

"They fit in pretty good," he said. "It's a new system for them, a new process, but they're catching on quickly."