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Pacers a Money Machine? by Jeremy Martin
If adversity builds success, then the Indiana Pacers just might make an NBA Finals run after all.
All of America already knows about the brawl in Detroit, so there is no reason to address that story for the millionth time. Most of America knows that three of Indiana's top players were suspended for a combined 128 games because of the fight. What many in the country do not know, however, is that this team has been very profitable for those that have been brave enough to bet on them since all of the suspensions were handed down in November.
With a depleted roster consisting of mostly no-name players (to the casual NBA fan), this team had won three of five games straight up since the suspensions and four of five against the point spread before last night's game. They suffered their second point-spread loss since the fight on Thursday in Los Angeles against the Clippers, but they had three current starters out with injuries and they only suited eight players, four of whom were not even with the team before the fracas in Detroit.
No one can argue the fact that this Indiana team has played inspired ball. Before the game in Detroit, Indiana had lost five of six games against the spread. They had suffered one of the most embarrassing losses in team history as the (formerly) lowly Clippers came in to town and put a 102-68 whipping on them in front of their home fans. They sure didn't look like the team that all the preseason prognosticators claimed would give Detroit a run for their money in the East.
But now, six games into the suspensions, Indiana looks like they may be playing their most cumulative basketball of the season. They have held firm at the top of the Central Division and this team actually has the best winning percentage in the entire Eastern Conference at 10-5.
Their starting lineup when healthy includes Jamaal Tinsley, Scot Pollard, Fred Jones, Austin Croshere and James Jones. These players are not household names by any means, but they have all come together under the direction of Coach Rick Carlisle to perform above the expectations of most. Some of these young players who had previously been relegated to the end of the bench have made the most of the opportunity that has been presented to them.
If this team can keep up this kind of play for the remainder of the regular season, they could become a real factor in the playoffs once they get some of their big guns back. Even the biggest Indiana "homer" cannot expect the team to keep its position at the top of the conference for the entire season. But if the Pacers can continue to play the way they have recently, there is a good chance they could be seeded middle-of-the-pack come playoff time.
Ron Artest won't be back for the playoffs. His full-season suspension designates he will miss any postseason action. But Jermaine O'Neal is one of the best forwards in the game, if not one of the best players in the league. He will be back when the games really matter. Stephen Jackson, another forward, is also a key player on this squad and he will provide a boost when he returns five games after O'Neal hits the court.
And don't forget about Reggie Miller. He is close to coming back from injury. He will have to serve a one-game suspension before he is allowed to play but he will provide veteran leadership and, even though his best days have past him by, he can still play.
All those bettors who had future tickets on the Pacers to win the NBA Finals may have torn up their tickets in disgust after all of the suspensions were announced. But this action may have been somewhat foolhardy. This team has played very well in the last couple of weeks and those team members who served in role-playing positions before the suspensions will be much better players once the team is at full strength.
Since the Indiana players were suspended, the team has become huge underdogs in most of the games they have played. This has been a trap that has been set by the oddsmakers; a trap in which they probably caught many public or "square" NBA bettors. The professional bettors or "wise guys" have been all over the Pacers, according to bookies.
Skybook oddsmakers admit that they had over adjusted the line on the Pacers and the wise guys have made them pay. It will be interesting to see where the lines for games involving this team will go in the next few weeks. If the oddsmakers who over adjusted for the suspensions may come back and over adjust the other way (in favor of Indiana). It could be a good time to make some plays against Indiana now that the lines have flattened out. "I think players rally in tough times but that initial emotional boost does tend to fade in time and the true talent level will begin to show," commented Bodog.com President Rob Gillespie.
They could, however, continue to play as a team and keep racking up wins. A handful of games are not enough to make a real judgment of how the rest of the season will play out. One thing is for sure, this team is not just going to roll over and die. A Skybook oddsmaker summed it up best, "pro athletes are just that: Pros. They pull together and do their jobs and they do (them) well."