The Indiana Pacers started the season on a 25-5 run before New Years, but since then they’ve struggled, if you want to call it that, going 15-7. A 40-12 record is an incredible feat for this young team and you have to wonder if the All-Star break gave most of the squad enough of a break to put on another 25-5 run to finish out the season.
Their first opponent, post All-Star break, will be the Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers faced the Hawks twice this season already, both times in Atlanta. The teams have split the series 1-1 with the Pacers earning their first regular season victory in Atlanta since 2006.
For Indiana, this game will be a pivotal one. They’ve lost two of their last three games, including a third home loss of the season to the Dallas Mavericks right before the break. Their slump has some concerned about whether this team can revert back to their 2013 selves and win a championship.
Paul George and Roy Hibbert took part in the All-Star festivities over the weekend, so it remains to be seen how effective they will be right out the gate, but the rest of the squad should be well rested. David West scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds the last time these two squads met and you would expect him to come out with the same aggressiveness again.
Lance Stephenson wound up injured the last time they played, but managed to score 10 points before doing so. He’s returned to his traditional form, minus the back-breaking circus shots. And George Hill took on the role of distributor, tallying seven assists, while holding Jeff Teague to nine points, on 4-of-8 shooting.
It’s the Hawks’ bench that the Pacers have to worry about. No Hawks’ starter scored in double-digits last time, but Elton Brand and Mike Scott scored 12 and 15 respectively. And it was their bench that brought them back from being down 16 with a little over eight minutes left to play.
Atlanta is a team that always gives the Pacers fits, no matter how good they are. This year has been no different, and you can’t expect this game to be any different. Picking the Pacers at home used to be a no-brainer, but with their recent struggles it’s become a lot less definite. Starting the second half of the season off with a win would set the tone and hopefully push the Pacers down the right path towards the No. 1 record in the league and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.