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Pacers Need Mental Toughness And Leadership In New Year

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Mike Wells delves into what should be a broad New Year's resolution for the Pacers - mental toughness. As they head into 2009 with 51 games left to play, the Pacers can look back on their 21 losses to date and find plenty of examples where a little mental toughness and discipline to stick with the stated game plan could've made the difference to change a few of those L's to W's.

The good news is that the players get it. While it is easy to blame the coach for losses mounting, Jim O'Brien has the support of his team to this point. They take responsibility for their mistakes and aren't looking to the excuses of injuries and unfamiliarity that they could plausibly lean on.

Regarding, Jim O'Brien's role in the losses, Danny Granger and Jeff Foster thinks the responsibility shouldn't be heaped on the coach.

"That's not fair because that's rarely the case," forward Danny Granger said. "In the NBA, you have so many coaching changes. It's easier to put it on the coach when a lot of times it's the players. That's how the situation is here. It's the players, not the coach."

"Obviously it's tough on all of us, and I think he's done a pretty good job considering the circumstances," forward Jeff Foster said. "(Thirty-one) games where you're coming down to the wire and we're just making mistakes that the coaching staff has coached us not to make. We're having mental breakdowns.

"He's doing as well as can be expected, trying to stay positive and reinforce the things we're messing up on."

Along with the mental toughness and trusting what Jim O'Brien is preaching and teaching, the Pacers really need an extension of JOB to emerge from the roster. Dan Dakich has mentioned on his radio show that the Pacers need a "killer" to take over games. A guy to step up and make plays in big situations as well as not leting  the breakdowns pass without holding his teammates responsible for their mistakes.

Danny Granger could become that killer but the roster may not have that guy yet. If not, there is certainly room for a player or a couple of players to be that extension of the coach on the floor or in film sessions. A different voice to point out mistakes and set the tone and expectations that those mistakes can't be tolerated.

I broached this topic with Jarrett Jack after Tuesday's loss to the Hawks. Jack has been on both sides of this situation, making his share of mistakes but also trying to counsel younger players. He thinks the team's strong chemistry should make it easy for the players to take accountability into their own hands.

"It's all part of the communication. If someone's not in the right spot you tell them There's a way you can tell them so that you don't start an argument. Plus, the other person in the wrong has to respect the fact that you're coming to him, trying to help, trying to be a good teammate. That's one of those things we have to grow up and take as well. Just take the criticism, it's just constructive criticism that's all it is"

The solid team chemistry should make that constructive criticism coming from a teammate easy to take. Everyone is trying to win, if there's something that might help, get it out on the table for consideration. This is no time to be shy while the team is searching for solutions.

"Obviously, we need to have more guys who are willing to step up and say something when they see something wrong."

Here are a couple of links for this first day of 2009: