<
>

Stojakovic hopes to lead Pacers to playoffs

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peja Stojakovic believes the Sacramento
Kings traded him to a playoff contender when they sent him to the
Indiana Pacers for Ron Artest.

"When I heard it was the Pacers, I was really happy," he said.
"It's a great organization, the team is great. I hope I can fit
into the system pretty fast."

Stojakovic arrived in Indianapolis on Friday and sat out the
Pacers' game against Cleveland. The Pacers decided he won't play
until Tuesday's game at Washington. His first home game will be
Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I think we could throw him out there tonight," Indiana coach
Rick Carlisle said before Friday's game. "He'd go out there and
he'd have a good feel for the game. It would be hard for him on
defense with the schemes we run."

Stojakovic, a 6-foot-10 forward, averaged 18.5 points and shot
39.8 percent from 3-point range during his seven-plus NBA seasons,
all with the Kings. This season, he has averaged 16.5 points a game
and has a 39.7 3-point percentage.

Stojakovic's presence will cause more lineup shuffling for
Carlisle.

All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal will miss at least eight weeks
with a torn left groin. Centers Jeff Foster, Scot Pollard and David
Harrison and starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley all have missed
games because of injuries.

Only Stephen Jackson and rookie Sarunas Jasikevicius have played
in all 41 games for Indiana. The Pacers started the season aiming
for an NBA championship, but reached the halfway point of the
season with a 21-20 record.

Despite that, Stojakovic believes the Pacers are still a strong
team.

"I've watched them the last three years," he said. "They've
lost players to injuries and suspensions and they've always been
able to win games."

Pacers president Larry Bird said the team pursued Stojakovic for
the last two years.

"I think he'll make an immediate impact because of the skills
that he has," Bird said.

Stojakovic has missed nine games this season. His list of
injuries includes a protruding disc in his lower back, a sprained
right pinkie finger and a strained groin.

But he said he is healthy.

"I feel pretty good right now after coming back from
injuries," he said. "I've felt pretty good the last two or three
games."

Now, Stojakovic wants to help the Pacers salvage their season.

"I'm ready," he said. "I'm ready to accept the new challenge.
This is a fresh start for me."