Banged-up Pacers starting to heal as NBA season nears

Friday, October 24th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ When Rick Carlisle was hired as Indiana Pacers coach in September, he had a big enough challenge just implementing his system with a new set of players.

That challenge has been compounded, however, by a rash of injuries that have caused six players to miss practice or exhibition games leading up to Wednesday's regular-season opener at Detroit.

Jermaine O'Neal (back), Jonathan Bender (knee), Austin Croshere (hamstring), Kenny Anderson (hamstring), Anthony Johnson (finger) and Al Harrington (shin) have all missed time.

``It's a little tough because we have some guys behind on the reps, so we have to get them caught up,'' Carlisle said. ``We've got a little time left.''

Thankfully for Carlisle, things are finally looking better for the first time this preseason.

After seeing a specialist in Boston last weekend, O'Neal said his back injury, which has bothered him for several years, was not as serious as he initially feared.

O'Neal and Croshere participated this week in live practice action, and Anderson made his first game appearance as a Pacer Thursday night in Minneapolis against the Timberwolves.

``Things are looking up a little bit in terms of the health situation,'' Carlisle said.

Of the existing injuries, Bender's is the only one that has yet to show real progress. Bender had surgery on his left knee Oct. 3 to correct what Carlisle called a ``chronic condition.''

``Jonathan's a ways away,'' Carlisle said. ``But he's back on his feet without crutches and he's taking some shots and so forth.

An added problem brought on by the injury woes has been a delay in cutting down the roster.

When asked for a target date for making cuts, Carlisle said, ``Based on what?''

The Pacers currently have 18 players on their roster, including five point guards (Anderson, Johnson, Jamaal Tinsley, Omar Cook and Jamison Brewer). But Carlisle has been unable to decide who to keep and who to cut because he hasn't seen enough of some players.

Anderson, for one, is eager to finally get on the court in a game situation with his teammates.

``I'm already behind the 8-ball trying to get up to speed on the plays and stuff,'' Anderson said. ``I need to play.''

A healthy roster couldn't come any sooner for Carlisle. The Pacers finish up the preseason on Friday against Denver, then practice Saturday through Tuesday to try and get ready for Wednesday's regular season opener against Detroit.