Wednesday, October 8, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indiana Pacers pulled off a tribute to their past perfectly. The only thing that didn’t go as planned was the game itself.

Chris Paul scored 17 points, and the New Orleans Hornets beat the Pacers 105-71 in Indiana’s preseason opener Wednesday night.

The franchise’s executives considered the final score secondary to their effort to reconnect with longtime fans the team alienated in three years of losing and off-the-court troubles.

The game was played at the Pepsi Coliseum, the team’s home in the 1960s and ‘70s during its American Basketball Association days, instead of Conseco Fieldhouse. The Pacers pulled out their white throwback uniforms, and even brought back their old coach for a quarter.

Pacers coach Jim O’Brien spent the first quarter helping on the radio broadcast, while former coach and current radio commentator Bobby “Slick” Leonard returned to the sideline. Leonard became the Pacers’ coach in 1969 and led them to three ABA championships before the league merged with the NBA.

He enjoyed the moment.

“It was kind of weird, really,” Leonard said. “I haven’t been on a sideline for 25 or 30 years, but it brought back memories because I stood over there for a lot of years in big-time ball games.”

Leonard, wearing a salmon-colored suit jacket, threw up a ceremonial opening tip before moving to the bench. Many former ABA Pacers, including George McGinnis, Bob Netolicky and Darnell Hillman, were introduced during a halftime ceremony.

“It was an honor to come out with these guys and bring out some of our old players,” Leonard said. “It was fun. It was for the fans and for the franchise.”

Leonard remained in coach mode after the game. He didn’t care for the team’s 25 turnovers or 31 percent shooting.

“It’s preseason, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “You can’t turn the ball over that much, and you’ve got to shoot a heck of a lot better.”

The current coach agreed.

“We did not do a whole lot of things we had practiced,” O’Brien said. “After 12 practices with our guys, I just didn’t recognize anything we were doing. It just was pretty ugly.”

Former Pacer Peja Stojakovic scored 14 points and Tyson Chandler had 11 rebounds for the Hornets, who topped Golden State 106-103 in their preseason opener on Sunday.

It was the first time Pacers fans got to see their new-look team. The Pacers made two draft-day moves that brought seven new players, including point guards T.J. Ford from Toronto and Jarrett Jack from Portland.

Ford led the Pacers with 15 points in just under 20 minutes. Jack had 11 points and eight rebounds, but had eight turnovers.

Indiana’s Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Travis Diener sat out with injuries.

New Orleans led 27-20 at the end of the first quarter, and would have been up 10 if Jared Jordan would have released his three-quarter-court heave a few moments earlier. The Hornets led 52-42 at halftime, and 78-48 at the end of the third quarter.

New Orleans coach Byron Scott said the Pacers will improve.

“They’ve got a great coach in Jim,” he said. “He does a great job with young players. I think they are going to develop some continuity on both ends of the court. I still think they are going to be a pretty good team this year.”

The Pacers aren’t too worried about the result.

“We know where to go from here,” Pacers forward Danny Granger said. “Obviously, we would have liked to win, but it’s our first time playing with each other, and that’s the way it goes sometimes. We learn from it and move on.”

Notes:@ Eight Hornets players, including 2008 All-Stars Paul and David West, met presidential candidate Barack Obama on Wednesday and took a picture with him. Obama was in Indianapolis for a campaign stop. … Indiana rookie center Roy Hibbert was given a flagrant two foul and ejected in the fourth quarter for hitting New Orleans’ Melvin Ely with an elbow. … Austin Croshere, a free agent Indiana got last month, started the game. He spent the first nine years of his career with the Pacers before playing the past two seasons for Dallas and Golden State. He finished with one point and seven rebounds in 15 minutes.

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