Herb Simon is the kind of owner who likes to stay in the background. He believes in letting team president Larry Bird run the Indiana Pacers' basketball operation.
However, Simon has a hard time containing his enthusiasm over the Pacers' start. They have already beaten such powers as the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets on their way to being 9-8.
"I like the way people are talking about us, and I like the way we're playing," Simon said. "We beat some of the best teams and we lost a few that we should have won. I'm getting more and more optimistic."
The Pacers are looking like a team that might contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are second in the NBA by holding opponents to a 46.4 effective field-goal percentage. Center Roy Hibbert is blossoming in his third season as he is averaging 16.1 points and 9.5 rebounds a game with a 21.1 PER. Guard Darren Collison is averaging 14.3 points a game as he is emerging as an outside scoring threat to keep defenses from collapsing on Hibbert and forward Danny Granger (22.2 ppg).
"We expect to be in the playoffs every year, but this year we're expecting it a little bit more," Simon said. "Yes, we think we're doing everything we can to be in the playoffs."
Bird, too, likes the way Indiana is shaping up.
"We've got good chemistry," he said. "No matter if they have good game or bad game, they come back in and have a good practice the next day. Right now everything is pretty good."
The Pacers are also playing well on the road as they are 5-3 after going 9-32 away from Conseco Fieldhouse last season.
"Winning is great. Losing is no fun," coach Jim O'Brien said. "I think our guys are taking pride in winning on the road. We have done a good job. We have had some gigantic wins against some good basketball teams."
Metro Rivalry Requires More Wins
The New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets may be rivals in a geographic sense. However, it's hard to say two teams are rivals on the court when they have been among the worst franchises in the league in recent seasons.
"You don't really get a rivalry until both of us are in the playoffs," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Nets coach Avery Johnson also rolls his eyes at the talk of a rivalry, which is mainly something that both teams' marketing departments try to create.
"I kind of laugh at that," Johnson said. "I've been in rivalries before. Maybe if these two teams become perennial playoff contenders and meet up in the playoffs and then somebody goes home with the agony of defeat and somebody with the thrill of victory, but until that happens, we're both teams that are trying to climb. So I think you've got to give it a little time before it becomes a real rivalry."
The teams did meet in the postseason in 2004 with the Nets sweeping the Knicks in four games. However, the Knicks haven't been to the playoffs since and the Nets' last postseason appearance was in 2007.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is trying his part to fan the flames of a Metropolitan New York rivalry, though, saying on the day he bought the team that he wanted to turn Knicks fans into Nets fans. There was also the mural of Prokhorov and Nets minority owner Jay-Z advertising the Nets' "Blueprint for Success" that looms over Madison Square Garden from 34th Street and 8th Avenue.
The Knicks responded with a billboard in Brooklyn, where the Nets are building the Barclays Center that is scheduled to open for the start of the 2012-13 season. Then on MSG Network was the commercial promoting the Knicks-Nets game on Tuesday at the Garden that included the message: "Hey Nets. You can walk like us, you can talk like us, but you ain't never gonna be like us."
Prokhorov responded with a poke at the Knicks: "I don't think we want to be like the Knicks. I think we'd more like to resemble the Lakers."
Ts Adding Up for Jackson
Stephen Jackson can't stop arguing with the officials. And the NBA can't stop disciplining the Charlotte Bobcats guard.
Jackson was suspended for Wednesday night's loss to the Hornets in New Orleans He received the penalty for verbally abusing the officials in last Saturday's game against the Bucks at Milwaukee then not leaving the court fast enough when he was ejected just 4 and a half minutes in. Jackson was also fined $50,000 last month for berating officials after a loss to the Pistons at Auburn Hills.
Jackson already has received six technical fouls this season. He was suspended for one game in 2009 while playing for the Warriors because he reached 16 technical fouls in a season.
"I know every time I complain, it's for a good reason," Jackson said. "When things are not fair, I speak my mind. I've never been a guy not to speak my mind and I guess people don't like that."
Jackson believes he is being targeted by the NBA for taking part infamous 2004 "Malice at the Palace" brawl between the Pacers and Pistons at Auburn Hills.
"I'm perceived as something I'm not," Jackson said. "I'm not looked as a basketball player, a guy who can play this game very well."
The Bobcats have been charged with 13 technicals already this season and coach Larry Brown fears Jackson could be suspended again for reaching the 16-T threshold.
"I can understand where he's coming from," Brown said. "He feels he doesn't get calls he deserves. But I don't think things have changed over his career. We need him out there."
James Won't Respond to McGrady
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade held their tongues earlier this week after Detroit Pistons guard Tracy McGrady questioned the chemistry between the Miami Heat's superstars. In fact, James and Wade admitted McGrady might have a point.
James says he would rather not criticize other players.
"I'm always up for trying to help players who just want to get better," he said. "I have always lent my hand to rookies coming out of college, coming out of high school, guys coming into the league who might need my help. I have never been one of those guys to criticize guys. It doesn't even feel right to me to do that, to say someone is not good, or doesn't play well with this player."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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