Raps could gain from Pacers' loss

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

The term "Indy 500" does not stand for the number of uppercuts Indiana Pacer players chucked at ornery fans Friday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

But the Melee in Motown certainly has gutted the heart of the Pacers, which could be good news for the Raptors' playoff aspirations.

Suspensions to Ron Artest (season), Stephen Jackson (30 games) and Jermaine O'Neal (25) -- the players who were hardest hit by commissioner David Stern's nine-player, 143-game suspension binge -- does not guarantee the Pacers won't reach the post-season but it certainly makes the road much more difficult.

In the wide-open Eastern Conference, any edge the Raptors can gain should be perceived as a positive in the locker room.

Or so you might think.

But the Raptors are not ready to write off the Pacers.

At least not yet.

"Regardless if Indiana is there or not, if we play hard and play together we have a shot at the playoffs," coach Sam Mitchell said. "Those guys aren't going to quit. Indiana still has guys who can play."

Vince Carter was asked if the Pacers' season is all but over.

"It's possible," he said. "But they're still good. They still have guys there who understand the system. They're not that bad now. Maybe they won't win a championship but they'll still contend."

Artest's suspension is the longest in NBA history, eclipsing the 68-game punishment handed out to Latrell Sprewell for choking Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997.

"I just don't think (Artest) should be suspended for the entire season," guard Rafer Alston said. "I still think he's wrong for going up in the stands and fighting. But an entire season? I don't think you do that, not only to him as a player but to the entire Indiana Pacers team. I think you destroy the chance of them being the No. 1 seed, but now, without all three (players), also the possibility of even making the playoffs."

Mitchell was not as sympathetic.

"I think it's good the commissioner stepped up and sent a strong message," he said. "It's tough for the Indiana Pacers. I played in the organization and very much respect what they've built, but you just can't have players going in the stands.


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