Mar 3, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith (5) reacts to making a dunk with center Zaza Pachulia (27) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Thunder 97-90. Mandatory Credit: Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Game Preview: Atlanta Hawks @ Indiana Pacers

Atlanta (22-15, won last 2) @ Indiana (23-13, lost last 1)

Key Stats

Atlanta

* 93.3 points per game (23rd in the NBA) vs. 91.49 points allowed per game (7th)

* 43.8% FG (17th) vs. 43.3% FG allowed (10th)

* 41.95 rpg (16th) vs. 43.08 rebounds allowed (22nd)

* 21.6 apg (10th) vs. 14.19 TO pg (6th)

Indiana

* 95.22 ppg (15th) vs. 91.89 points allowed (8th)

* 43.8% FG (17th) vs. 42.6% FG allowed (7th)

* 44.14rppg (4th) vs. 42.89rebounds allowed (24th)

* 18.06 appg (28th) vs. 14.56 TO pg (10th)

Position-by-position Matchups

PG-Jeff Teague vs. Darren Collison

SG-Kirk Hinrich vs. Paul George

SF-Marvin Williams vs. Danny Granger

PF-Josh Smith vs. David West

C-Zaza Pachulia vs. Roy Hibbert

Key Reserves

Atlanta-Jerry Stackhouse, Ivan Johnson, Jannero Pargo, Vladimir Radmanovic

Indiana-Tyler Hansbrough, A.J. Price, George Hill, Dahntay Jones

Injuries of note

Atlanta-Joe Johnson (knee, out), Al Horford (pectoral, out), Jason Collins (elbow, out)

Indiana-Jeff Foster (back, out)

Breakdown:

The Hawks and Pacers have split two games, with each home team winning this year. Atlanta is coming off of two days’ rest after an exhilarating victory over one of the league’s best teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder, on Saturday. In the teams’ first meeting, it was a Roy Hibbert block on star Hawks’ center Al Horford that sent him to the surgeon’s table with a vicious pectoral injury that effectively ended his regular season. But the Hawks prevailed at home in February, beating the Pacers by 10. Josh Smith has stepped up big against the Pacers this year, averaging 28/10/3 with 3 steals and 2 blocks per game over the two meetings. He was brilliant in the last meeting, stuffing the stat sheet with 28 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals and 3 blocks on 65% shooting. He came up big in Saturday’s win too, managing 30 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists. In fact, Smith has been on a torrid double-double streak of late, meeting that benchmark in 7 of the Hawks’ last 8 games, including games of 12 or more rebounds six times over that span.

Indiana is coming off of a brutal road loss to the league’s best team, the Chicago Bulls, last night. The Pacers hung with Chicago in the first half, even taking a one-point lead into the intermission, until Chicago pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring the Blue and Gold by 20 heading into the fourth. Indiana’s pride was further injured by incessant trash talking from Joakim Noah and various other Bulls regarding “Celebration-Gate,” wherein the Pacers “over-celebrated” after their first win in Chicago. Worse, the Pacers were badly out-rebounded (32-60) and out-muscled by the Bulls, thanks largely in part to a huge game on the glass from Noah, who pulled down 17 boards in the win. Indiana played without gritty veteran Jeff Foster, who while limited lately, has still been effective at tipping loose balls and grinding away second-chance opportunities from opponents.

The Pacers will play again tonight without Foster, but Atlanta will be without its leading scorer, Joe Johnson, for the fourth time in five games. Johnson sat out the All-Star game, and is still rehabbing a knee injury that will likely keep him out for the rest of the week. The Hawks are 3-1 without Johnson, compensating well with the aforementioned brilliant play of Smith. Indiana must focus on controlling a rebounding advantage tonight, something they’ve not struggled with all season. The Pacers can hopefully rely on their superior depth, even without Foster, to overcome a relatively shallow Atlanta team that is dealing with several key injuries. This is a high pressure situation for Indiana. The Pacers hold the #5 seed in the East over Atlanta by just 1.5 games, and are 11-4 at home vs. Atlanta’s 10-9 road record.

Prediction: Pacers 100, Hawks 89

Despite Josh Smith’s big numbers, without Al Horford and Jason Collins Atlanta is somewhat of a finesse team. Indiana is capable of matching up with them pretty easily, but only if the Pacers shoot much, much better than they did last night. We’ll find out tonight whether or not the Pacers are serious about securing a top-4 playoff seed before season’s end.

Fantasy Outlook:

You can obviously rely in Smith in just about any situation nowadays. He’s currently by far the most reliable scoring and rebounding option for Atlanta, and is capable of stuffing the box score with other stats as well. But you were obviously starting him. For a sneakier option Jeff Teague is averaging 14.6 ppg and 1.8 spg over the last five, and we all know how the Pacers can make average-to-above average point guards look like All-Stars.

Paul George led the Pacers in scoring last night, but barely flirted with relevance elsewhere on the stat sheet, which is sort of unusual for him. Roy Hibbert managed to rebound well, but was a zero everywhere else. Hibbert recorded double-doubles in each of his other two meetings with Atlanta, so as usual, start him with confidence despite his struggles last night.

Lucas Klipsch is stack-staking his paper, his wallet looks like a Bible. Follow him on Twitter @LukeNukem317

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