-- Judging by the way he dodged specific questions Monday, Indiana Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle could have a surprise up his sleeve for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"I'm not going to talk about lineups, matchups or anything like that," Carlisle said on the eve of the Pacers' biggest game of the season.
Carlisle's surprise, if he has one, likely would involve finding a way to defend Richard Hamilton, whose 33-point outburst in Game 5 gave control of the best-of-seven series to the Detroit Pistons.
Indiana has had some success when Ron Artest has been the main defender against Hamilton, although Reggie Miller has started each game with that assignment.
And while Artest has been lobbying publicly to take over as the primary Hamilton-stopper, Carlisle feels Artest is equally or more effective as a weak-side defender against Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace.
"Any move you make like that is going to have an impact somewhere else in the game," Carlisle said. "We've got to figure out the right percentages and where to put people in those situations."
Artest missed practice Monday because of a migraine headache, and Jermaine O'Neal (knee) and Jamaal Tinsley (leg injuries) were listed as game-time decisions.
O'Neal declined to speak to the media, and thus did not clear up the confusion over whether his injured left knee was drained of fluid. The Pacers coaching staff said it was drained Sunday afternoon, although O'Neal claimed it wasn't.
Miller also left practice without speaking to reporters, thereby offering no insight into what he feels would work best against Hamilton, who is averaging 24.2 points in the series.
Many of the other Pacers expressed disappointment -- some even said it was embarrassing -- to let the Pistons come into their building and take control of the series.
Indiana has to win Game 6 on the road, then win Game 7 at home, in order to become the eighth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-2 deficit.
"Knowing that we beat them in that building twice this year, there's no reason we can't do it again," said Austin Croshere, who was 0 for 7 from the field in Game 5 after being the difference-maker in Game 4. "I think we need to bring the energy that we had in Game 4 and find a way to slow Richard Hamilton down.
"How do you do that?" Croshere continued, "maybe it's with energy, maybe it's with throwing more bodies at him. Obviously it's important to do it early, because when he gets into a rhythm like that he feels he can hit anything he throws up there. He's hitting runners, floaters, one-dribble shots, two-dribble shots, spot-up shots, you name it."
Among Carlisle's options against Hamilton could be a continued increased role for second-year guard Fred Jones, who played 26 minutes in Game 5 and tied for the team-high scoring total with 13 points.
Carlisle noted that Jones and Miller have had some success chasing Hamilton around screens, though he acknowledged Artest has been the club's best defender against Hamilton in one-on-one situations.
Deciding who defends Hamilton is only one of the many questions Carlisle must answer. Among the others:
* What will he do if O'Neal's knee injury makes him as ineffective as he was in Game 4, when he scored only 11 points and took just 10 shots?
* How long will he stick with Tinsley, whose injuries to his ankle, knee and hamstring have left him limping on the court?
* Could there be a role for Kenny Anderson, the former all-star starter who's now the third-string point guard behind Anthony Johnson?