By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jamaal Tinsley's decisions on the court have been nearly impeccable this season. His decisions off the court? Well, that's another matter.
The Indiana Pacers point guard has been connected with three late-night conflicts in 14 months. The latest came this month when he and his companions were shot at during a night on the town.
"My life has changed," Tinsley told The Associated Press. "People make mistakes, but you just learn from it. If you're a man, adversity makes you stronger. Trials and tribulations make you stronger."
Team president Larry Bird thinks Tinsley learned his lesson this time.
"The things that happened in the past, hopefully are in the past," Bird said. "He's got too much to live for and he's got too many people depending on him, and he's got the young son (Jamaal Jr., 4) he's got to raise and lead by example."
Tinsley is happier these days with first-year coach Jim O'Brien and his staff. And he appreciates basketball even more since the Dec. 9 shootings that left a team equipment manager wounded and bullet holes in two of his cars. None of the shooters has been arrested.
He has hired a bodyguard and insists he's not about to become a recluse.
"People go out, they hang out, they have fun," said Tinsley, who is from Brooklyn, N.Y. "I can't be sheltered in my success. I'm from the city. It ain't nothing I haven't seen before."
Bird says Tinsley's problems have overshadowed a season deserving of All-Star consideration. Tinsley was not in the top 10 guards among Eastern Conference All-Stars even though his statistics are among the best.
Heading into Friday's game, Tinsley was fourth among Eastern Conference point guards in scoring (14.8 points a game), second in rebounds (4.4) and assists (8.7) and first in steals (2.0). He has led the Pacers to a 14-12 record, better than expected. Teammate Jermaine O'Neal, a six-time All-Star, has called Tinsley the Pacers' MVP.
Tinsley said he's doing what he couldn't while playing in the structured system of former coach Rick Carlisle. O'Brien's up-tempo style better suits Tinsley's game, but Tinsley said the main difference is O'Brien's trust in his floor leader.
"Not trying to bash anybody, but if you're a fan and you know basketball, you already know what the situation was here," Tinsley said.
Bird said Tinsley also has changed his approach to the game. He gripes at the officials less and doesn't get delay-of-game warnings as often. Still, Bird knows Tinsley doesn't always appear fully engaged.
"Sometimes it looks like he's not interested in what he's doing, but he's probably one of our most fierce competitors," Bird said. "He dies on the inside with every bad play and every missed shot. He just doesn't show it as much."
Tinsley also has had more time to work with his teammates.
Last season, Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy came to the Pacers in the midseason trade that sent Stephen Jackson to Golden State. Now, with a full training camp together and a system that fits their skills, they are producing. Dunleavy is averaging a team-best 17.5 points, the best total of his six-year career.
Tinsley's creative passing, ability to score off the dribble and improved 3-point shot have given Bird satisfaction for keeping him when many wanted him gone. Still, Tinsley's penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time has worn on fans.
He was there when Jackson fired several shots into the air before being hit by a car at an Indianapolis strip club in October 2006. Tinsley and another Pacers player, Marquis Daniels, face a Jan. 14 trial on charges stemming from a bar fight nearly a year ago.
Since Jackson and Ron Artest have been traded, the role of scapegoat has fallen to Tinsley. There are his legal issues, his sometimes surly demeanor, the Pacers' mediocre play in recent years and his injuries -- he's missed 93 games the past three-plus seasons.
"You obviously want your fans to like your players and feel like they know him," Bird said. "I think one of Jamaal's problems is that our fans don't know him as a person because he's not a talkative guy. He's not one of these guys that does a lot of things that has interaction with our fans, and that's a problem."
Tinsley said he cares how the community views him, but he won't let fans, or anyone else, affect his game.
"I don't worry about the crowd," he said. "I'm from the city -- I understand. One day they love me, the next day, they hate me. I don't look at newspapers. I don't watch the news, none of that. I know how it is."
One person who didn't judge Tinsley was O'Brien. Tinsley, already impressed with O'Brien's coaching skills, respected him even more after the shooting. O'Brien said Tinsley was guilty only of choosing to be out late.
"I don't think any other coach would have stood up for me like that," Tinsley said. "He cried in front of us. It just tells me that he's a great person. It's just real, real nice to have somebody around here like that."
Now, after all that's happened, Tinsley finds he's able to take the long view.
"I'm blessed to be a professional athlete, seven years with one team," he said. "I take nothing for granted. At the end of the day, I just know the man upstairs is in control of my destiny, and all my faith is in him."