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Notebook: Dismissing the Streak, Keeping Hawks Out of Transition

Fact: Indiana has a 2-0 lead in its best-of-seven first round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

Fact: Indiana has lost 11 straight games at Philips Arena, where Games 3 and 4 will be played.

Fact: The team isn’t too worried about it.

“I’m not really going to talk [to the team] about that at all,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel after Friday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “A lot of these guys only experienced two of them. A few more experienced four of them. Most of them didn’t experience any of them past that.”

George Hill added: “We don’t really care about the past and it doesn’t mean anything now [because] in the playoffs were 0-0.”

Their last win in Atlanta came on Dec. 22, 2006 —  100-90. The only Indiana player that was on that team was Danny Granger, a reserve then. Now, he won’t be able to help the team out on the floor because he’s out for the season with a left knee injury. Assistant coach Dan Burke was on the bench, next to Rick Carlise. And Frank Vogel, he was an advanced scout for the Washington Wizards at that time.

By winning the first two games by 17 and 15, respectively, the Pacers’ confidence is pretty high. Hill has been steady at point guard, averaging 20 points in the playoffs and the Hawks, so far, have had no answer for Paul George. On Wednesday, they tried six different players on him but nothing worked.

As for whether he expected a heavy dose from defensive-specialist Dahntay Jones, his teammate for the previous two seasons, George garnered a laugh from the media on hand.

“Maybe,” he said. “I just make sure the training staff got band aids on hand.”

One Pacer that will certainly be fired up is Roy Hibbert. Last time he went into Atlanta, he left with just a rebound and a block in 21 minutes to show for it. He struggled so much that Vogel benched him for the entire fourth quarter. Afterwards, he declined all media requests, which is very rare for the friendly big man.

The Pacers are expecting an extraordinary effort from the Hawks, who are treating Saturday’s game as a must-win situation. (It really is because should they lose, they must win each of the final four games.)  The Hawks have lost their last four games dating back to the regular season. Even so, the Pacers aren’t letting up and will treat the game as if their backs are against the wall.

As for the Pacers’ lack of success in Atlanta, ”I wouldn’t really look into it too much to be honest with you,” Vogel insisted. “I don’t put a lot of credence into regular season games.”

Limiting the Transition Game
Though the Pacers have won the first two games decisively, their defense has allowed Atlanta to shoot an unusually high percentage. On the season, the Pacers have the league’s-best field goal percentage defense (.420). But the Hawks have made almost half the shots they’ve attempted (.497). Of the 16 playoff teams, that ranks as the third-highest shooting percentage.

“I’m pretty happy with what we’re doing in the half-court,” Vogel said. “I just think we got to keep them out of transition. Our transition defense was the best in the league all season but it wasn’t very good in Game 1 or Game 2. By our count, we gave them 25 points in the break on 13-of-22. You put them in the half-court and they’re around 40 percent.”

George Hill has the biggest challenge of staying in front of Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, who sets the tone for the Hawks and loves to get it and go. Slow him, and you slow their team.

“We’re giving up too many transition points,” Hill reinforced. “I think our half-court defense has been pretty solid but our fast break and transition defense has not been so good. If we can limit that, then [our] game is going to get even better.”

Pendergraph over Mahinmi
Center Ian Mahinmi was traded for and brought in last summer to be Roy Hibbert’s backup. He played in all but one of the 81 regular season games and averaged 16.5 minutes per game. But in the playoffs, he’s fell behind Jeff Pendergraph, Mr. Energy, in the depth chart. He didn’t see the court in Game 1 and checked in with the rest of the bench guys with just three minutes to go in Game 2.

“Pendy has been terrific all year and he’s one of our better blitz guys, which against this team, I think, is valuable,” Vogel explained after Game 1. “Nothing against what Ian brings to the table. If we’re playing spread pick-and-rolls, Ian probably makes more sense. Pendy’s giving us a big boost offensively the last few times he’s gotten opportunities, too, with his shooting and rim running.”

As you could expect, it’s quite frustrating. But Mahinmi, a positive guy, is handling it ok and understands that it’s all about the team.

“Coach asked me to stay ready, you never know,” said Mahinmi. “At this point of the season, it can’t really be about me. Whatever frustration I have, I kinda of have to put that aside and keep a positive spirit. Everything is all about the team right now and getting wins.”

Injury Update
Lance Stephenson, who sustained a bruised right hip in Game 2, and Hill, who’s dealing with a sore right elbow and lingering hip injury, were both held out of most of practice – other than shooting drills and 5-on-0 – so that they wouldn’t take any hits. Stephenson has described the pain as “horrible” and “terrible.” Vogel said they’ll both be ready to go.

About The Author

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Scott Agness is in his second season as a multimedia contributor for Pacers.com. He delivers articles, blog posts, interviews, and videos. He is a graduate of Indiana University where he was part of broadcasts on the IU Radio Network, Big Ten Network, IUHoosiers.com and WIUX. He is the founder and editor of VigilantSports.com.

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