* Saying Goodbye: Every season the Pacers put on quite a show in the final home game of the regular season. Fan appreciation night is always a chance to reward the fans who've supported the team all season with a fun, festive atmosphere, and more often that not, a Pacers victory. In six of the last eight years the Pacers won their final home game, although this is the fourth straight season the last home game really was the last game. (No playoffs) An NBA roster is never the same from one year to the next, but this night was not about honoring players who are making their last appearance in a home uniform.
The Pacers organization took time to honor longtime assistant coach Dick Harter who is retiring after the season. This is Harter's third stint as a Pacers' assistant, he played an integral role on Larry Bird's staff for the 2000 NBA Finals team.
Conseco Fieldhouse and I close my eyes and listen to Harter, I am reminded of Market Square Arena. Reb Porter spoke to the fans at halftime, his final two minutes, two-aaaaaahhh in the fourth quarter brought goosebumps. Congrats to Reb for 34 great years behind the microphone.
* Something to play for: Coming off a big win in Cleveland Sunday afternoon, I didn't think Orlando would bring it's A-Game to Conseco Fieldhouse Monday. I was wrong. The Magic played all of their key players significant minutes and got off to a spectacular start, leading 42-18 after one quarter.
While the Pacers aren't exactly the kind of team Orlando will have to defeat to make another NBA Finals run, I saw enough to say they'll have no problem at least advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. I'm not sure if they'll knock off Lebron and the Cavs again, but they are certainly going into the playoffs with some momentum. While King James and the Cavs are resting down the stretch, the Magic are pushing the pedal to the metal.
"Stan (Van Gundy) doesn't believe in that, so we have to come ready to play ready to play, just like any other game," Vince Carter told me after the game.
Perhaps nobody on Orlando is looking forward to this upcoming playoff experience more than Carter who is in his first year with the Magic after playing missing the playoffs his last two seasons in New Jersey.
"This is a great opportunity, I haven't played in (the playoffs) the last couple of years, so this is the chance to go out there and try to do something special," added Carter.
While Orlando is locked into the #2 seed (and first-round match-up against Charlotte) for the Eastern Conference Playoffs, they are still playing for a better overall record than the Lakers should the two teams meet again in the NBA Finals.
Read the Orlando Sentinel Recap of Monday's 118-98 Magic Victory
* Who's gonna be on the point? Enough about the Magic, let's talk about the Pacers and NEXT season. I'm not 100% sure where their biggest need area is for the off-season, as they could use help at any position and likely will be drafting "best available" at the likely spot in the lottery (10th).
If the ping pong balls magically went in the Pacers favor and they won the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, I wonder whether they would select John Wall or Evan Turner. I personally would go with the forward from Ohio State, but don't dispute the fact that this team could use some help at the point. The big question I have is, if they don't make a significant addition at that spot, who will be the Pacers starter in the fall?
While T.J. Ford is under contract for next year (with a player option) it is clear that he is not part of Jim O'Brien's plans. Earl Watson has played pretty well this season, especially considering his relatively low salary. However, I'm not so sure that Watson is a starting point guard for a playoff team, something that A.J. Price could be with additional experience. Price, who made five three-pointers Monday, should make dramatic improvements his second season in the NBA.
"It seems like the season just started and I was going through training camp, trying to get acclimated to NBA life and now it's over so just take the good with the bad and try to come back better than ever next year," Price told me while participating in the FS-Indiana Pacers Live Post-Game show.
Jim O'Brien has said many times this season that he was going to play the guys who give him the best chance to play each game. Price has been getting a chance as the Pacers back-up point guard during the last couple months of the season and has performed pretty well. He's averaging nearly 10 points per game in 20 minutes per over the last five games. While the organization obviously is fond of Price, it remains to be seen if they have the confidence to place the "point guard of the future" tag on him or if they will be looking to draft a top point guard prospect.
Watch Jeremiah's Interview with Pike Graduate Courtney Lee prior to Saturday's Nets-Pacers game
* Technically Speaking: The officiating crew in the regular season finale left a little bit to be desired. While it was good to see former Pacer Haywoode Workman (#66 on the NBA Officials roster) back in Indianapolis crafting his second career, his partners Pat Fraher and Sean Corbin won't be working an NBA Finals anytime soon.
Mulitple times in the first half these guys blew extremely late whistles after seeing the result of a missed shot and hearing a quick complaint. While they occasionally did get the call correct, they also weren't man enough to swallow their pride and allow for some second-guessing. Both Danny Granger and Troy Murphy were whistled for technical fouls in the first half, while Orlando guard Matt Barnes drew a technical. Late in the third quarter, Vince Carter spent a majority of a timeout trying to get a call clarification from Fraher.
While some non-playoff participants are playing out the string, it appears some officials are as well.
* Big Roy's Big Threes: The Magic absolutely dominated the first three quarters and led 90-67 with time winding down in the third. Seven-foot-two center Roy Hibbert gave the rather supportive regular season finale crowd something to cheer about when he closed the quarter with a three-pointer from the corner. This was just Roy's 2nd three-point basket of the season, and while the scoreboard still read 90-70, it had a chance to be the momentum booster that could spur on a comeback.
There was no magical comeback, but Roy did add a second three-point shot in the closing minutes. In a game lacking highlights from the home team, Hibbert's shooting exploits were memorable. Hibbert is now officially 3-for-6 from outside the three-point arc this season.
* What to make of this season? Regardless of what happens Wednesday night in Washington, the Pacers are guaranteed to finish with the 10th worst record in the NBA. This will be their fourth consecutive season out of the playoffs. In fact, their last post-season game will be remembered as the one Anthony Johnson showed up while the rest of the Pacers didn't bother. The current Orlando Magic back-up scored a career-high 40 points in a 96-90 series-clinching loss to the Nets.
That (2006) seems like ages ago, but the big question is, are the Pacers close to breaking through and returning to the Playoffs?
If you judge a team strictly by wins and losses, the Pacers will finish either three or four games behind last year's win total. There was a pretty good feeling inside Conseco Fieldhouse following the home finale last year. Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush really shined during the second half of their rookie seasons and Danny Granger completed an All-Star season, one that concluded with the NBA's Most Improved Player Award.
While Pacers officially finished this season winning 11 of their last 13 home games and looked much better the final two months of the season than the first four, I would't go so far as to say there is incredible optimism that next season result in a playoff appearance.
The Eastern Conference is getting much better and teams like Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Chicago are only going to get better. The Pacers don't have the cap space to make a major off-season acquisition until AFTER next season.
The good news is Roy Hibbert has progressed quite nicely and should be a solid NBA center for years to come. The bad news is this is still a team with more questions than answers and not one that looks to be in a great position to improve dramatically next season.
Pacers - Magic Notebook
Indiana loses home finale by 20-points to Orlando, Team says goodbye to a couple familiar faces while looking forward to the future
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