- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers, with all their suspensions and injuries, came into last night’s game at Conseco Fieldhouse against the Washington Wizards as perhaps the most improbable team still jostling for playoff position, and many believe the stabilizing force of 18-year veteran Reggie Miller is what has them in the thick of the hunt.

‘It’s hard to quantify exactly what he’s meant this year and down the stretch,’ coach Rich Carlisle said of Miller, who has said he will retire at the end of this season. ‘He has been the most important factor this season. From the time when things were bad until now, he has been very strong-willed and kept a consistent approach that for this team, a value can’t be placed on it.’

The Pacers (40-34) began last night one game behind the Wizards (41-33) for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The game did not end in time for this edition.

Miller, a five-time All-Star who will turn 40 this summer, was named conference Player of the Week for March 28 through April 3. But more importantly, he has stabilized a roster that has been decimated but nonetheless could finish the season as high as the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.

Following their celebrated brawl Nov. 19 with the Detroit Pistons, the Pacers lost Ron Artest to a suspension for the rest of the season; Stephen Jackson got 30 games; and Jermaine O’Neal received a 15-game suspension.

Although Jackson is back and starting, O’Neal is out with a shoulder injury that could sideline him for the season. Still, the Pacers had won five games in a row before last night.

After four consecutive years of decreasing scoring averages, Miller, who last year averaged just 10 points, is averaging 14.2 points this season.

Miller doesn’t speak before games, but his play in the past week spoke volumes. He averaged 21.7 points and shot 52.4 percent from the floor and 53.3 percent from 3-point range as the Pacers won all three games.

He had 31 points — 21 in the fourth quarter — in an overtime victory over the Miami Heat and 22 in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers. And he helped the Pacers knock off the Wizards last Sunday with 12 points and three assists.

‘He is a pro,? said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. ‘When you are a Hall of Famer like he will be, after so many years he still makes shots; he’s a leader. His experience gets him through a lot of things that his legs, that aren’t 28 anymore, can’t get him through. He is a guy who has a lot of passion for winning.’

Jamison update

Antawn Jamison didn’t start again, not because he is injured but because the team wants to get the most out of him during the five-game homestand beginning tonight with Philadelphia.

‘There is a plan in place to play Antawn every other day during that home stretch. It’s not a coaching decision, it is an agreement,’ Jordan said. ‘The plan is to get him to as high a level as we can when we make the playoffs.’

Playoffs? Did the coach say the ‘P’ word?

‘We’re very confident that if we play the way we can, we will make the playoffs,’ Jordan said of the Wizards, who have seven games remaining. Five are at home, where the Wizards are 25-11.

The New Jersey Nets (37-39) are in the ninth position in the Eastern Conference, and eight teams make the playoffs.

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