Atlanta Hawks (33-42) at Indiana Pacers (53-24)
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse — Indianapolis, IN
Tip: 6:00 p.m. ET
Television: Fox Sports Indiana
Line: IND -8.0
At the end of the day, the Indiana Pacers will have only four games remaining on their regular season schedule — remarkable how time flies. Nevertheless, Indiana hosts the Atlanta Hawks Sunday evening in a game with playoff implications.
Very few people envisioned the Hawks reaching the playoffs this season, especially after Josh Smith left to join the Detroit Pistons as a max-contract free agent signee. However, riding the shoulders of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, and Paul Millsap, Atlanta is right back in the mix of things in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks currently sit in the eighth spot in the Eastern standings, holding a one-game advantage over the New York Knicks in the loss column. New York faces the Miami Heat in a 1:00 p.m. showcase on ABC Sunday, the other piece of the playoff puzzle.
Many scenarios can play out at this point in the season, but an Indy win and a New York win would move the Pacers into first place again in the East, while the Knicks would knot things up with Atlanta for the eighth seed. (Update: New York lost, so Miami remains one ahead of Indiana in the loss column and will end the day still atop the Eastern Conference.)
For the Indiana Pacers, the focus needs to be on their game and their game only. Atlanta has over a decade’s worth of history in giving the Pacers fits, specifically in Atlanta. Indiana has won just once on the road versus the Hawks over the years.
This game is in Indianapolis, however, and in front of what should be a sold-out Bankers Life Fieldhouse this evening, I foresee Indy playing with heart and energy. I believe they now understand what is at stake in terms of winning ballgames and obtaining some form of momentum heading into the postseason. Coming off a win over Detroit Wednesday and a highly competitive contest in Toronto Friday night, the Pacers may, in fact, be separating themselves from their ugly drought of nearly two months.
Paul George has scored 27 and 26 points, respectively, on a combined 16-for-36 shooting in the past two games. This is definite progress after he shot 16-for-48, including 5-for-18 from beyond the three-point arc, in his previous three outings.
Watch for Indy to run more offense through George and Lance Stephenson against Atlanta to try and get out on the fast break.
Prediction: With the regular season coming winding down, playoff teams are now looking to build momentum. Such is the case for the Pacers, starting tonight against the Hawks. Indiana beats Atlanta, 99-89.
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Tags: Indiana Pacers