Top 10 Hawks Matchups – #2: Hawks’ First Chance at Revenge vs. Pacers
The Indiana Pacers knocked the Hawks out of the first round of the playoffs last season in six games, and the Hawks will have their first chance to exact some revenge on the Pacers when Indiana comes to town on Jan. 8. Indiana expects to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference once again and will be one of the toughest matchups on the Hawks schedule all season.
The Pacers return the same starting lineup from last season’s squad that reached the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Miami Heat. Indiana had one of the best defenses in the NBA last season, ranking 2nd in the NBA allowing 90.7 points per game and were 1st in the league giving up just 0.83 PPP (points per possession). Roy Hibbert provides the anchor for their stingy defense and is one of the best rim protectors in the NBA at 7’2″. Hibbert finished the season 2nd in the NBA in total blocks (206) and was 4th in blocks per game (2.6). Paul George emerged as one of the league’s young stars when he took on a larger role in place of an injured Danny Granger, as he earned his first career All-Star selection and averaged 17.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.8 steals per game with a career-high 23.5% usage rate.
David West was re-signed during the offseason, and Granger’s return will give the Pacers a lot of depth on the wing along with George and Lance Stephenson. The biggest free agent signing of the summer for the Pacers was bringing in Luis Scola to add extra front-court depth as well as Chris Copeland, formerly of the New York Knicks. The biggest question facing the Pacers is how they will integrate Granger back into their wing rotation without disrupting the chemistry that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
The Hawks went 4-6 against the Pacers last season including the playoffs and will be looking to set the tone for their season series this year in their first meeting. Atlanta found offensive success against Indiana last season when they went big, playing Al Horford on the elbow and posting up George with Josh Smith. The Hawks do not have as much flexibility to go big at the three this year. Paul Millsap could be an option, but he doesn’t figure to have the quickness on the defensive end to defend players like George. Last year, the Pacers’ length bothered the Hawks’ offense, which was predicated mostly on side-to-side ball movement and off-ball screens to create jump-shots and cuts to the basket. No team defended spot-up shooters last year better than the Pacers, who allowed just 0.93 PPP and held opponents to 36.7% shooting on spot-up attempts.
The Hawks will hope that an expanded pick-and-roll attack can give them an advantage against Indiana, who ranked 11th in the NBA defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers, allowing 0.78 PPP. This will put the onus on Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder to be aggressive on pick-and-rolls to try and draw Indiana’s bigs away from the rim, especially Hibbert. The Hawks were 21st in the league last year getting just 0.74 PPP from their pick-and-roll ball-handlers and will need to be better in that facet to open up the Indiana defense.
Previously in the Top 10 countdown:
10. Opening Night in Dallas
9. Knicks’ First Visit To Philips
8. Clippers Come To Atlanta
7. Drew and Pachulia’s Return to Atlanta
6. Rockets Come To Atlanta
5. Hawks Face Nets In London
4. Josh Smith’s Return to Atlanta
3. Coach Bud Returns To San Antonio
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