Scouting Report: Indiana Pacers
The Pacers — owners of the best record in the NBA — will return to Philips Arena Tuesday night to face the Hawks. In their first meeting of the season, also in Atlanta, the Hawks got a 97-87 victory behind a balanced scoring effort, led by 17 points from Kyle Korver. In that meeting, the Pacers were on the second game of a back-to-back and started out sluggish, falling behind 12-0.
The Hawks had a lot of success spacing the floor and drawing Roy Hibbert — who only played 22 minutes — and the rest of the Pacers’ bigs away from the paint thanks in large part to Pero Antic stepping behind the three-point line — going 3-for-6 — and scoring 16 points. With Antic still out with the stress fracture in his ankle, the Hawks will have to find a way to draw Hibbert — one of the league’s premier rim defenders — out of the paint if they are going to find similar levels of offensive success.
Paul Millsap, Mike Scott and Elton Brand all have the ability to step out and hit shots from the midrange — and threes in Millsap and Scott’s case. If the Hawks are going to have the same kind of success, these players will need to convert on opportunities from the perimeter early and often if they are going to force adjustments from the Pacers’ defense.
Paul George had 28 points and 12 points in the first matchup, and DeMarre Carroll will once again be tasked with the unenviable assignment of trying to contain the East’s All-Star starter at small forward. George is averaging 22.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game and shoots well from three (37.2%). Now that he has become a consistent three-point threat, defending George has become exceedingly difficult because he is a terrific dribble-drive player that gets to the free-throw line at a high rate (.328 free throw rate).
The Pacers offense is near the league average, but they have — by far and away — the best defense in the NBA, thanks to Hibbert anchoring the paint and long, athletic players like George, Lance Stephenson, and George Hill on the perimeter. Indiana allows opponents to score just 90.6 points per game (fewest by 2.1 points) and shoot just 41.3% from the field. The Pacers make it exceptionally difficult to attack the rim with the 7-foot-2 Hibbert lurking, and that length and athleticism on the perimeter allows them to make quick rotations and strong close-outs on shooters.
The Hawks had their success in the first meeting shooting well from three (10-for-23) and did well to limit their turnovers with just 11 compared to 20 by Indiana. Winning the turnover battle and stretching that stingy defense out by knocking down perimeter shots will be crucial for the Hawks if they are to get another win over the Pacers.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images