It has been nearly a week since the Atlanta Hawks took to the court as a unit, but that period of rest comes to an end on Tuesday when they face off with the Indiana Pacers in a tough road test. Prior to the All-Star break, the Hawks were losers of five consecutive games, and that ugly spurt doubled as their longest losing skid of the season. With that, the break came at just the right time, and with the exception of Paul Millsap (who was busy in New Orleans), the entirety of the roster should be 100% fresh and ready to roll.
Unfortunately, the Pacers have been the best team in the Eastern Conference this season, as they enter Tuesday's game with a 40-12 overall record and a sparkling 25-3 mark in their home building. A 4-point loss to Indiana just two weeks ago was actually the beginning of the current five-game losing streak, but earlier in the season, the Hawks were able to hand the Pacers a 10-point defeat, and both games have been incredibly competitive.
On the whole, this is a painfully difficult match-up, but the most challenging part of this game will be on the offensive end. Roy Hibbert, Paul George and company lead the league's top-ranked defense, and the Pacers have allowed just 93.6 points per 100 possessions on the season. Knocking off rust could be a potential issue as well, but with more of Indiana's team being involved in All-Star Weekend (George, Hibbert, and head coach Frank Vogel), the Pacers may have a bit more jet-lag in their step despite being in the friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Hawks have been able to do yeoman's work containing Roy Hibbert, but the lack of depth on the front line for Atlanta still presents a challenge against Indy's behemoth center. The 7-foot-2 center is the front-runner for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award, but he is only averaging 5 points and 5 rebounds per game against the Hawks this season, and that brings some encouragement for the Gustavo Ayon/Elton Brand duo. On the perimeter, though, DeMarre Carroll and company will have their hands full dealing with the Paul George-Lance Stephenson combination, and guys like Cartier Martin could see extended minutes of Mike Budenholzer simply can't utilize small lineups against Indy's significant size on the wing.
Lastly, the second half will seemingly be huge for Jeff Teague, and that begins here. His opponent in this match-up, George Hill, is significantly bigger and more physical than Teague, and in the past, that type of disadvantage has given the point guard fits. Teague's numbers have been on a steady decline since his early All-Star push this season, and if the Hawks are going to have any sort of prayer in hanging near or above the .500 mark, his resurgence will be needed.
In all fairness, this is one of the more difficult spots in the entire NBA, given the fantastic play of the Pacers in their home building. However, any negativity that has mounted throughout this losing streak will resurface if Atlanta has a disappointing showing in this spot, and that alone puts a shining spotlight on the game at hand.
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, February 18, 7 p.m. ET
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM