After the Pacers defeated New York in Game 7 of the conference
semifinals last May, Reggie Miller carefully picked his way
through the crowded visitors' locker room at Madison Square
Garden. "I went and hugged all of my teammates and thanked them
for watching my back," says Miller. "When the media were coming
at me and the New York fans were coming at me, it was 11 other
guys that were telling me, 'We're behind you 100 percent.'"
After two straight years of falling one game shy of the Finals,
the Pacers know what they must do to win a title. "I think we
were relying on guys to do what they do best and do it all the
time--and that's impossible," says Antonio Davis.
It's not that Miller's teammates don't want him around anymore,
though his deteriorating relationship with coach Larry Brown has
spawned trade rumors. It's that after a year in which the
bombastic guard posted six-year lows in scoring (19.6), assists
(3) and steals (1.2) and hit a career-worst 46.2% from the
floor, Miller's teammates have come to realize that just backing
Miller up--even 100%--isn't enough.
"I told Dale [Davis] over the summer that we were going to have
to step it up this year," says Antonio Davis, who phoned his
frontcourt mate Dale frequently during the lockout to talk about
Dale's rehabilitation from shoulder surgery and his own recovery
from a disk problem in his back. "Dale isn't much for words, but
one thing he did say to me was that he would step it up and, if
he had to, take a leadership role."
The emergence in the playoffs of Rik Smits (page 94) was
heartening. Smits even stole some of the spotlight from Miller
as he outdueled the Knicks' Patrick Ewing and held his own
against Magic behemoth Shaquille O'Neal. Now if the Davis
duo--who missed a combined 46 games last season due to injury--can
fulfill the potential they showed two years ago, the Pacers may
have the winning combination.
Another key is free-agent newcomer Ricky Pierce, a career 49.9%
shooter, who the Pacers hope will make up for the loss of clutch
performer Byron Scott in the expansion draft. But essentially it
will be the same Pacer team gunning for the title again.
"There's this fear in me that if we change this team, we may
never be as good," says Pacer president Donnie Walsh, a former
college teammate of Brown's at North Carolina.
The presence of Mark Jackson is a constant reminder of that
fear. Two years ago, during Brown's first season in Indiana, the
coach made it known that he wanted to trade for Jackson, whom he
had coached in L.A. After the season Walsh acquiesced, and the
Pacers dealt Pooh Richardson, Malik Sealy and the rights to Eric
Piatkowski to the Clippers, expecting strong returns. Jackson
didn't provide them, scoring a career-worst 7.6 points per game
last year and proving too slow to fit in with the Pacers'
aggressive style of defense. At one point in January, Brown
benched Jackson for the less talented but quicker Haywoode
Workman, an experiment that lasted 13 games.
But Brown, who has had only one losing season in 23 years as a
head coach, isn't wrong often. Where Smits's previous coaches
had always told him to bulk up if he wanted to raise the level
of his game, Brown had him drop 25 pounds. And even Brown's
worst move, trading sharpshooting Detlef Schrempf to Seattle for
Derrick McKey in 1993, wasn't as bad as it first appeared; McKey
has become invaluable in Indiana, especially defensively,
leading the team last season in steals (125) and minutes (34.6).
But when it comes to Miller, Brown seems nonplussed. Asked about
their relationship by a caller to his weekly radio show last
season, Brown said, "Sometimes I get the feeling that if I said
the sky was blue, Reggie would say it's green."
"Coach can be hard to play for," says Miller, who bought a $1.1
million home in the Hollywood Hills this summer with his wife,
actress Marita Stavrou. It seems the perfect location for the
California native, who revels in the spotlight. Miller's most
memorable moments always include some grand gesture or
tit-for-tat taunting, as is the case with his running playoff
feud with filmmaker and Knick fan Spike Lee. "Reggie has a
desire to capture the moment like no one I've ever seen,"
Jackson said during the playoffs when asked how he felt about
Miller's viperine mouth and over-the-top antics. "After the guy
in Chicago, he's the best 2-guard in the world."
But the guy in Chicago is also the only shooting guard around
whom an NBA dynasty has been built. If the Pacers want to be the
next, Miller's supporting cast has to prove it belongs right
there on the marquee with him.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN The mercurial Miller will still be the Pacers' main man--just not all the time. [Reggie Miller]
1994-95 TEAM STATISTICS
PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)
OFFENSE 99.2 (18) .477 (8)
DEFENSE 95.5 (4) .456 (9)
Dale Davis's field goal percentage has been higher than his free
throw percentage for two consecutive seasons. Among qualifiers
for both the field goal percentage and free throw percentage
titles, only Davis, Wilt Chamberlain (who had two such streaks,
one of five years and one of three) and Shaquille O'Neal have
been better from the field than from the line two years in a
row. (Davis made six free throws too few to qualify in the
'92-93 season, or his streak would be three years.)
Better from the Field Than from the Line
1964-65 .510 .464
1965-66 .540 .513
1966-67 .683 .441
1967-68 .595 .380
1968-69 .583 .446
1970-71 .545 .538
1971-72 .649 .422
1972-73 .727 .510
1993-94 .599 .554
1994-95 .583 .533
1993-94 .529 .527
1994-95 .563 .533
PLAYER TO WATCH
Not a lot is expected of low-first-rounders, but when your name
is Travis Best, it's hard to avoid superlatives. Best has
exceeded expectations in every way but one: At 5'11", he never
reached the heights of his two older brothers, Darryl and Leo,
who are 6'5" and 6'2", respectively. "I've had to play against
bigger guys all my life," Best says. And he has often bested
them: At Georgia Tech he surpassed Kenny Anderson and Mark Price
to become the school's alltime assist leader. Coach Larry Brown
wasn't happy with the Pacers' point guard production last year.
Now for something better, he can turn to Best.
STARTERS 1994-95 Key Statistics
SF Derrick McKey 13.3 ppg 4.9 rpg 3.4 apg
PF Dale Davis 10.6 ppg 9.4 rpg 1.57 bpg
C Rik Smits 17.9 ppg 7.7 rpg 52.6 FG%
PG Mark Jackson 7.6 ppg 7.5 apg 1.28 spg
SG Reggie Miller 19.6 ppg 41.5 3FG% 89.7 FT%
F Antonio Davis 7.6 ppg 6.4 rpg 0.66 bpg
G Haywoode Workman 4.2 ppg 2.8 apg 37.5 FG%
F Duane Ferrell 4.1 ppg 1.6 rpg 48.0 FG%