Quickly putting their worst season in a decade behind them, the Pacers look to open 2007-08 with a third straight victory when they visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
The Pacers (2-0) beat Miami 87-85 on Friday and will try to start 3-0 for the second time in four seasons, while looking for a third straight victory over the Grizzlies (0-1).
Last season, Indiana finished 35-47 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996-97. The result got coach Rick Carlisle fired and opened the door for former Boston and Philadelphia coach O'Brien to return after a two-year hiatus.
"His personality has rubbed off on this team in a major way from day one,'' said Jermaine O'Neal, who made his debut Friday after sitting out Indiana's 119-110 overtime win over Washington on Wednesday with a hyperextended left knee. "His relationship with this team has gone way beyond basketball. We're willing to lay it on the line. It doesn't matter who's out there.''
The Pacers, who haven't started 3-0 since 2004-05, were able to win another close game Friday.
Danny Granger had 25 points while shooting 10-for-13 from the field - including 4-for-6 from 3-point range - and nine rebounds for Indiana, which rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final four minutes to remain undefeated for its new coach.
"We're not going to win every game, but we're not going to stop playing,'' Granger said. "We're going to play our style until the buzzer. I would bet to say we're going to win more than we're going to lose.''
O'Neal had 10 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three blocks in 24 minutes Friday night. The 11-year veteran forward averaged 24.0 points and 13.0 rebounds in Indiana's two victories over Memphis last season.
Memphis looks to avoid opening with two straight losses for the second time in four years. The Grizzlies hung tough Wednesday, but fell 104-101 to San Antonio.
"We are a team still trying to figure things out. I think we did a pretty good job," said Memphis' Pau Gasol, who had 22 points versus the reigning NBA champions. "We are not patting ourselves on the back. We have to work for it."
Though there were 16 lead changes, 17 ties and the Grizzlies remained competitive, the club expects more than keeping a game close.
"I think we are happy with where we are at," Miller said. "At the same time, we have got to get a lot better. We don't play to be close. We play to win. It should be something to build on, but at the same time, it is disappointing."
Gasol averaged 24.5 points and 11 rebounds in the two losses to the Pacers last season. He had 30 points and shot 12-for-22 in a 116-110 home loss to Indiana on Feb. 3. Miller had 26 points and went 6-for-11 from beyond the arc in the same contest.
Memphis has lost two of its last three home meetings with Indiana.
The Pacers lead the overall series 19-4 but all four of those losses have come in six trips to Memphis. The Pacers are 11-0 at home and were 6-0 when the Grizzlies played their home games in Vancouver.