Countdown to Tipoff: Pacers vs. Atlanta
By Conrad Brunner, Pacers.com
SCOUTING THE PACERS: Locked into eighth place and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers (36-43) can neither rise nor drop in the standings regardless the results of their final three games. That does not render them meaningless, however. Coach Frank Vogel and the players do not want to lose the momentum they've built with a late-season run that includes wins in four out of five and nine out of 14, and a four-game home streak. With Mike Dunleavy rounding into form, the bench has been a key of late, averaging 41.8 points in the last six games, topping 40 points five times. Dunleavy has bounced back quickly after missing five weeks with a broken thumb and in the last two games has totaled 29 points in 43 minutes while making 8-of-13 from the field including 4-of-7 from the 3-point line. Paul George, who replaced Dunleavy in the starting lineup, is coming off a career-best 23-point game in Wednesday's 136-112 drubbing of Washington and has averaged 7.7 points and 4.1 rebounds in 16 starts.
SCOUTING THE HAWKS: Though Atlanta (44-34) has won nine in a row from the Pacers including three this season, the Hawks have undergone some significant changes since the teams last met on Jan. 8. Veteran point guard Mike Bibby was traded (along with two players that started against Indiana last night, Jordan Crawford and Maurice Evans) in exchange for Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong in February. They've gone 10-11 since that trade and will short of last season's win total (53). The Hawks will be without two starters, power forward Josh Smith (16.7 points, 8.7 rebounds), who has a sprained knee, and center Jason Collins (2.0 points, 2.1 rebounds), who has a sprained ankle.
KEY MATCHUP: Darren Collison has been on a roll of late, averaging 14.6 points, 5.8 assists and 1.4 steals in the last five games while shooting 71 percent from the field (34-of-48). He has the quickness to cause problems for Hinrich, although Atlanta's veteran point guard could take advantage of his size and savvy.
QUOTE MARKS: "For some guys that's really been playing through it, you've got to give them time off but you never want to lose momentum when you're winning games. You want to go in on a stride with a little swagger so you still want to win games going into the playoffs." -- Danny Granger
INJURY REPORT: The Pacers are healthy. For the Hawks, Jason Collins (sprained left ankle) and Josh Smith (sprained right knee) are out.
TICKETS: Buy now | Lucas Oil Family Night.
BROADCAST INFO: The game will be telecast at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports Indiana with Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner calling the game and Stacy Paetz on the sideline, with a pre-game show starting at 7. The radio broadcast is anchored by the flagship of the Pacers' network, WIBC 93 FM, featuring Mark Boyle and Bobby "Slick" Leonard returning for the final three games and the playoffs, with Matt Taylor reporting.
PLAYOFF NOTE: If Chicago wins tonight at Cleveland or Boston loses tonight against Washington, then the Bulls clinch the #1 seed and will play the Pacers in the 2011 First Round.
INTERACT: You can chat live with fans around the country in our live game blog which begins at tipoff.