Hawks-Pacers Preview

The Atlanta Hawks are ready to start mixing it up with


They don’t have a choice.

After complaining about how the first playoff game was called,

then getting chastised by their own coach for their poor effort in

the loss, the Hawks spent two days assessing the damage and how to

counter the Pacers’ tough, in-your-face brand of basketball. The

simple solution: Punch back.

”I’ve made no quarrels about how I feel we played from a

physicality standpoint,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. ”They (the

players) are in agreement. So we have to come out and be more of a

presence from a physicality standpoint. Not to hurt anybody, but

doing things harder. Doing things with much more physicality.”

For the Hawks, Game 2 on Wednesday night isn’t just a chance to

get even with the Pacers. It’s a brand new opportunity.

Stealing a win on the road in this first-round playoff series

would send Atlanta home for Games 3 and 4 with that all-important

split on the road, provide needed confidence and momentum, and

prove to the rest of the league that these refocused Hawks are far

better than the sixth-seeded team that showed up for Sunday’s

series-opening debacle.

Atlanta is at its best when it scores in transition and makes

3-pointers, and Indiana never gave the Hawks a chance to get into

that comfort zone Sunday. Atlanta managed only 14 fast-break points

Sunday, largely because the Central Division champs committed only

14 turnovers and most of those came on dead-ball possession

changes. The Hawks did manage to make 7 of 17 3-pointers but that

was only slightly more efficient than the Pacers 7 of 19 and no

distinct advantage.

Indiana has now won its last three against Atlanta, all at home,

and Drew detected a far bigger problem in Game 1.

While the Hawks spent much of the game worrying about the calls,

or lack thereof, which led to a huge discrepancy at the free-throw

line, Drew was more upset that his team didn’t play through the

calls and got beat up inside and out. He said the Hawks were

”manhandled,” a term that generated a faint smile from Pacers

coach Frank Vogel.

”I’d expect them to bring a great effort, but it gives me some

pride because that’s how we want to play,” Vogel said. ”We want

to be the more physical team.”

Indiana was missing that element during the final two weeks of

the regular season when it lost five of six games.

Paul George, who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award on

Tuesday, noted that the biggest change between that skid and the

start of the playoffs was the way Indiana used its hands to defend

without picking up silly fouls.

If they can be as effective locking up the Hawks again, the

Pacers could head to Atlanta — where they’ve lost 11 straight —

with their first 2-0 series lead since the 2004 Eastern Conference

semifinals. They know this will be more of a struggle.

”They’ll make some adjustments and we’ll have to be ready for

it,” said Pacers forward David West, who was diagnosed with a mild

sprained left ankle during Sunday’s 107-90 win. ”But it’s really

all about us, in terms of how we come out, our focus and locking

down the opportunities for them to knock down open 3s.”

Drew would rather see the Hawks match the Pacers’ intensity

after watching his team get outrebounded 48-32 in Game 1 and called

for 26 fouls as George continually attacked the basket.

What can the Hawks do?

They could go with bigger lineups, giving Johan Petro and Ivan

Johnson more playing time. Petro’s presence also would give the

Hawks another possible defender against Pacers center Roy Hibbert,


One potential concern for Atlanta is the effectiveness of

forward Josh Smith. Atlanta’s top scorer (17.5 points) and

second-leading rebounder (8.4) during the regular season managed

only 15 points and eight rebounds in Game 1, primarily with George

defending him, and Smith wound up spraining his right ankle late

when he stepped on Devin Harris’ foot. Smith missed Monday’s

practice, returned Tuesday and expects to be on the court Wednesday

surrounded by teammates playing with a far grittier effort.

”They’re a long, physical team. Especially on the defensive

end, we want to try to come up with the ball to create some fast

break opportunities for ourselves,” Smith said. ”So we’ve just

got to keep it up, run the offense with some urgency and be able to

come out in Game 2 and give a better effort.”

And match the Pacers, punch for punch.

”This is playoff time. There’s not anything we need to talk

about daily. That’s just how it is,” Drew said. ”You play solid,

amped-up basketball for 48 minutes. We’re going to have to get to

that point.”