Pacers Believe Anything can Happen

Monday, June 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jalen Rose doesn't see one large, forbidding task facing the Indiana Pacers in Southern California this week. He sees two goals, each quite achievable.

``We're completely focused on winning Game 6, because that will put us right where we want to be, right where nobody thought we could be,'' the Indiana forward said. ``We've broken it down in our minds and (coach) Larry (Bird) has told us. We win Game 6, and all things are possible.''

There's no denying the Pacers are in a jam. They need to win twice in three days in the NBA Finals. Both games are at the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team expected since December to win the league title.

The first, Game 6 at Staples Center on Monday night, will be played against a Lakers team eager to atone for its 33-point loss in Game 5 and in front of a Los Angeles crowd screaming for its first NBA championship since 1988.
It's a tall order, but few teams would be more equipped to try to fill it than the Pacers. They have a high-scoring, tough veteran roster with years of playoff experience, and thanks to three strong performances at Conseco Fieldhouse, they know the Lakers are nowhere close to unbeatable.

Even the most confident teams can be turned fragile in the heat of the playoffs, but the Pacers insist they're the team to mount one of the most remarkable finals upsets in history.

``It's tough trying to make history. We're probably the biggest underdogs in history,'' Rose said. ``Any time you beat a team by 30 you have momentum, but any time you're the team with three wins you have the cards in your favor.

``We need to find a way to turn the tide, and once we get into a Game 7 anything can happen.''

The Lakers were the NBA's most consistent team during the regular season, losing consecutive games only three times on the way to a league-best 67-15 record. But during the playoffs, the Lakers have routinely taken nights off — particularly when the final victory of a series was in sight.

Their most recent subdued performance came on Friday night in Game 5, the Pacers' 120-87 thrashing of Los Angeles.

``I don't know why we couldn't come back on them,'' the Lakers' Robert Horry said. ``They just kept shooting the ball so well for so long. We never had that killer instinct to get back in it that we had the first two games out there.''

While the Lakers didn't tank the game, Indiana's blistering shooting in the first half seemed to confuse and finally subdue Los Angeles well before the final buzzer. No matter, the Lakers seemed to be saying; we'll just go home and get it done.

Or in Kobe Bryant's words: ``No biggie.''

The Lakers wouldn't be the first champions to struggle like this. Even Michael Jordan's final Bulls championship team was beaten soundly at home by the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1998 finals, forcing Jordan to play the final game of his career in Salt Lake City instead of Chicago.

But the Lakers don't have the championship history of the Bulls or the undeniable will of Jordan, who won every finals series he ever played in. What the Lakers do have is several discouraging performances under pressure in the past two months.

``This team is still finding out how tough it can be,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ``We've had some serious ups and downs in just the last two weeks or so. Our ups have been higher than our downs have been low, so hopefully that means we prefer being up.''

For all the Lakers' problems with finishing, they have won all three previous playoff series at home. Something about the six championship banners and the retired numbers of Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Baylor and West seems to motivate Los Angeles, particularly Shaquille O'Neal.

``We'll be fine at home,'' O'Neal said. ``Our fans are great, a lot better than people give them credit for being.''

The Lakers' home crowd is often criticized for being more interested in lattes and cell phones than basketball. But Los Angeles responds to its fans, as evidenced by its 36-5 home record during the season.

Los Angeles is averaging 100.8 points per game at home during the playoffs, but just 96.9 on the road. The Lakers shoot better at home and hold their opponents to an average of 13 fewer points.

Jackson wants his team to be the aggressor, going to the basket, drawing fouls, getting to the free throw line and not worrying too much about forcing the ball inside to O'Neal.

``We're not anxious at all,'' Jackson said. ``I would say we're in a mode where we're going to be aggressive and combative, not going to lose control emotionally and get to the point where anxiety is getting us into a rhythm we don't want to play at.''

For the Pacers, Reggie Miller is shooting only 33 percent at Staples Center, including his 1-for-16 nightmare in Game 1. Rose, regularly a 47 percent shooter, has made only 37.5 percent of his shots there, though he had 30 points in Game 2.

As a team, the Pacers have averaged 95 points while shooting 39.5 percent at Staples. In Games 3 through 5 at Conseco Fieldhouse, Indiana shot 51 percent and averaged 112.7 points.

That's why few people outside of the Pacers' locker room and the Hoosier State believe there will be a Game 7 Wednesday night.