>> LOSING STREAK? WHAT LOSING STREAK?
No one on the active roster has experienced victory in Atlanta as a member of the Pacers but to hear them tell it, that’s only a storyline outside the locker room.
Said Frank Vogel: “I’m really not going to talk about it at all, to be honest with you.”
Said George Hill: “We let you guys keep worrying about that and we focus on basketball and trying to win a game (Saturday).”
Danny Granger is the only remaining member of the team that last won in Atlanta in Dec. 22, 2006, but he obviously isn’t participating.
The Pacers’ two losses in Atlanta came early in the season when both teams were much different. The Hawks, for example, had beefy center Zaza Pachulia and explosive guard Lou Williams; both have since been lost for the season with injuries.
Just exactly what kind of homecourt advantage Atlanta will have remains to be seen. The Hawks were one of the few teams in the NBA to rank behind the Pacers in attendance (26th at 15,126) and sellouts (five). And this isn’t exactly a hot ticket. Courtside seats could be had for $40 through the secondary market on Friday.
>> SURPRISING STRENGTH IN RESERVE
Vogel pushed the right buttons when he altered his bench rotation to include Gerald Green and Jeff Pendergraph. Green has produced 26 points and hit 6-of-13 from the 3-point line in two games, while Pendergraph has produced 10 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes. With those contributions complementing Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin, the Pacers have a 62-54 edge in bench points.
Given their second unit was among the least-productive in the league during the regular season, that has been an unexpected bonus for the Pacers.
“I’m just glad I have an opportunity to help this team win,” said Green, who scored 34 in the regular-season finale to earn the opportunity. “Coach has been sticking with me throughout this whole year. He’s given me several opportunities and I’m glad I’m just able to help this team win.”
>> HAWKS BACK TO DRAWING BOARD?
After sticking with the same starting lineup for the first two games, Hawks Coach Larry Drew may be left with little choice but to change things up. He did switch defensive assignments on Paul George, assigning Devin Harris instead of Kyle Korver.
Drew did give ex-Pacer Dahntay Jones more minutes in Game 2 against his former teammate. How would George feel about being matched up extensively against Jones, who has a reputation for pushing the boundaries with his defensive techniques?
‘I’ll just make sure the training staff’s got band-aids on hand,” he said with a smile.
Just as big a problem has been dealing with Roy Hibbert and David West up front. Drew may consider starting Johan Petro at center or Ivan Johnson at power forward to give the Hawks more bulk on the front line. Indiana has enjoyed advantages of 95-73 in rebounds, 30-17 on the offensive glass and 31-18 in second-chance points.
>> TIGHTENING UP THE TRANSITION DEFENSE
While the offense has been rolling right along, averaging 110 points on 46 percent shooting, the one area of concern has been the defense – specifically in transition. The Hawks have a 31-18 advantage in fast-break points and are shooting .497 for the series.
“I’m pretty happy with what we’re doing in the halfcourt,” Vogel said. “I think we’ve got to keep them out of transition. Our transition defense was the best in the league all season; it wasn’t very good in Game 1 or Game 2. “
The toughest cover so far has been point guard Jeff Teague, averaging 18.5 points. Josh Smith, Al Horford and Harris all are hitting better than 50 percent. If Korver ever shakes loose the Hawks could cause problems. he’s just 4-of-13 from the arc.
>> KEEP THE EDGE SHARP
If you were expecting to read something along the lines of “a playoff series doesn’t really start until a road team wins,” you came to the wrong place. This series not only has started, it’s all but over unless Atlanta wins both games in Philips Arena.
That said, the Pacers must avoid settling into any kind of comfort zone. They must play as though they believe the cliché’.
“No breathing room,” said George Hill. “I think when you win four games, then you get breathing room. But right now anything is possible, anything is happening. We have to go down there like our backs are to the wall and just play basketball.”
Or, as George put it, “We want to keep our foot on the gas.”