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NBA Preview from The Sports Network



Wednesday, November 3rd (All times eastern)

Indiana Pacers (0-0) at Cleveland Cavaliers (0-0), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Year two of the LeBron James era will get underway tonight in Cleveland, as the Cavaliers welcome the Indiana Pacers to Gund Arena for the season-opener for both squads.

After winning a franchise-record 61 games during the 2003-04 regular season, Indiana fell in six games in the Eastern Conference finals to the eventual champion Detroit Pistons. The Pacers enter the new season with high hopes, as they will once again be led by their two All-Stars Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest. Both players are coming off excellent seasons and should be primed for a repeat performance in 2004-05.

Unfortunately for the Pacers, O'Neal was placed on the injured list Monday with a sore left foot. The All-Star suffered a strained ligament in the foot during a pickup game less than a month before training camp began. He played in one preseason game, but has been out since October 20 with the injury.

Swingman Stephen Jackson was the one significant addition to the Indiana roster. The 6-8 Jackson, who can play shooting guard or small forward and is also solid defensively, was acquired in July from the Atlanta Hawks in a sign- and trade deal for forward Al Harrington. Jackson, who is a deadly shooter from beyond the arc and will be a huge asset when veteran Reggie Miller, who is sidelined for six-to-eight weeks with to a broken hand, decides his playing days are over, brings championship experience as he won a championship ring with the San Antonio Spurs in 2002-03.

With Harrington gone, Jonathan Bender, who is questionable for tonight's game with a knee injury, should see his playing time increase. The 23-year-old forward averaged seven points and 1.9 rebounds in just 12.9 minutes per game last season. Entering his sixth season in the league, Bender has not reached his potential and the Pacers would love nothing more then for him to have the breakout season that they have been waiting for.

On October 29th, the Pacers announced that Jamaal Tinsley had signed a contract extension with the team. The 6-3 point guard averaged 8.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game last season.

The Pacers have won two straight season-opening contests. Indiana was an impressive 27-14 on the road last season.

Cleveland hopes the 2003-04 Rookie of the Year can lead them to the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Even though the Cavaliers did not make the playoffs last season, they did win 35 games, which is the most amount of victories for the franchise since the Cavs won 47 games in the 1997-98 regular season. James lived up to the hype and the future of NBA basketball in Cleveland looked bright heading into the summer.

However, the offseason did turn out the way the Cleveland franchise was hoping it would. The most significant event was the loss of up-and-coming power forward Carlos Boozer, who signed with the Utah Jazz as a free agent. On July 14, which was the first day that teams were able to begin signing players, Utah signed Boozer to a lucrative multi-year contract. The Cavaliers had 15 days to match the offer, but declined to do so and allowed the Duke product to become a member of the Jazz.

The loss of Boozer is extremely tough for the Cavaliers, who also saw small forward Eric Williams leave to sign with the New Jersey Nets, to swallow. Cleveland wanted its team to be built around the trio of James, Boozer and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The feeling was that the three players would evolve into a potent threesome and with a few more tweaks to the roster, the Cavaliers would have a contender for many years to come. Unfortunately for the Cleveland franchise it was not meant to happen that way. But, life in the NBA does go on.

Cleveland tried to offset the departure of Boozer, as it acquired power forward Drew Gooden in a trade with the Orlando Magic, obtained point guard Eric Snow in a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers and signed free agent Robert Traylor. The Cavaliers also drafted Oregon forward Luke Jackson on June 24 with the 10th overall selection in the NBA Draft.

The Cavs have lost three straight season-openers and two of their last three home-openers. Cleveland finished 23-18 at home last season.

Last season, the Pacers won three of the four contests between the two clubs. The Cavs lone victory over Indiana was on March 14th in front of their home crowd. The road team has won eight of the last 13 contests in this series.

11/03 10:08:01 ET


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