A grueling, weather-challenged week ended with the Atlanta Hawks grabbing a 7-point win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night, but after two days of rest, the team has a big-time challenge in the form of the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night. Fortunately for Atlanta, though, the venue is a kind one for the Hawks, as they enter the game with a sparkling, 16-7 home record while the Pacers are "just" 14-8 away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Less than a month ago, the Hawks were able to grab a 10-point home win over Indiana on the strength of a hot start, but this an even more short-handed roster for Atlanta. In that game, Pero Antic (who is currently in a walking boot) overwhelmed Roy Hibbert with jump-shooting in route to 16 points, but in this match-up, the Hawks don't have a player with the combination of size and spacing that Antic provides. That opens the door for Hibbert to play a more "traditional" game, and as the front-runner for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award, that's a bit terrifying for the Hawks.
As a whole, Indiana possesses the league's best defense (allowing only 94.1 points per 100 possessions), and the biggest challenge for the Hawks will be to simply score in an efficient manner. The offense has been lights-out in recent days, cracking 110 points in 4 straight, but the Pacers present a different animal. In addition to Hibbert, Indiana boasts above-average defenders at every position, including Paul George, who doubles as a top-5 player in the NBA.
Speaking of George, DeMarre Carroll will draw the full-time assignment in attempting to stop the young swingman. George isn't quite the "killer" that Kevin Durant has been (and we're grateful), but DeMarre will have to control him with little help, as Indy possesses a solid rotation of options like David West, Lance Stephenson (who some felt was an All-Star snub), and George Hill.
Playing with pace could be critical here, and as Mike Budenholzer consistently points out, the Hawks are much more effective when they use an up-tempo mindset. The Pacers would love nothing more than to grind the game to a halt in order to utilize Hibbert and their half-court defense, so the name of the game will be transition excellence on the both sides of the ball, and that is something to monitor from the opening tip.
If there is a solitary advantage in this match-up, it is probably with the bench. Mike Scott and company have been tearing up the competition from a reserve standpoint lately, and Scott will be looking to score in double-figures for the 12th consecutive game.
Nothing is easy in this league, regardless of how well the team is playing heading in to a given game, and the well-rested Pacers will certainly be doing everything in their power to stop Atlanta's momentum. With that said, though, the Hawks have the look of a rejuvenated club right now, and if there was ever a barometer to find out where the team is, Indiana provides a high bar to aim toward on Tuesday night.
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, February 4, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM