It comes down to this for Pacers: Beat Hawks and they’re in
The Indiana Pacers will have everything to play for when they host the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night in the final game of the regular season.
The Hawks, not so much.
Atlanta (43-38) is locked into the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, sealing that spot with a 103-76 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.
The Pacers, though, are fighting for their playoff lives. Indiana (41-40) has won four straight games but still could need a fifth straight victory to ensure its ticket to the postseason.
If the Pacers beat Atlanta, Indiana will be the No. 7 seed in the East. If the Pacers lose, they will need either the Chicago Bulls (40-41) or the Miami Heat (40-41) to lose Wednesday night or Indiana will miss the playoffs.
The Bulls host the Brooklyn Nets, while the Heat host the Washington Wizards in their finale.
The Hawks, locked into a first-round matchup against the fourth-seeded Wizards, figure to be resting players, which would help Indiana’s chances.
The Pacers and Hawks have split their two meetings this season, with the road team winning each time.
Indiana won in Atlanta last month on a last-second 3-pointer from Glenn Robinson III, who will miss Wednesday’s game due to a calf injury. Pacers big man Al Jefferson is questionable because of a sprained ankle, while Atlanta’s Thabo Sefolosha is questionable (groin) after returning to action Tuesday.
“We’ve done some good things the last four games,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan told pacers.com. “We’ve got one more game to seal the deal. We’ve put ourselves in this position, and now we have to go and get it done.”
Pacers forward Paul George was named the Eastern Conference player of the week and has scored 20 or more points in 11 straight games.
“We know what level we need to play at,” George said. “It would be a shame to throw it all away and not get this win.”
Indiana has flourished at home this season (28-12).
The Hawks also have won four straight games, including two victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers. They destroyed the Hornets on Tuesday behind Dwight Howard’s 53rd double-double of the season (19 points, 12 rebounds).
“We’ve been here before,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We need to stay humble, stay edgy and remember why we’re playing better lately. These last four games, it’s been a simple message: compete, stay together — and guys are doing that well.”
Atlanta is the seventh-best rebounding team in the NBA, an area that has given the Pacers some problems this season. Indiana is 26th in total rebounds. The Hawks also rank fourth in defensive efficiency rating. That will be put to the test against a red-hot Indiana offense that averaged 117.8 points in its past five games.
Pacers guard Jeff Teague spent his first seven seasons with the Hawks. He will be going head-to-head with his former team, trying to help his new team reach the postseason.