The Atlanta Hawks wrap up their regular season Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers. The playoffs are almost here!
The Atlanta Hawks have nothing left to play for in the regular season. Their playoff fate is sealed. Last night’s win over the Charlotte Hornets locked them into the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference.
They’ll face off against the 4th seed Washington Wizards in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. After weeks of uncertainty, the picture is finally crystal clear. The news gets even better. It appears that the Hawks are peaking at just the right time.
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They’ve played arguably their best basketball of the season over the last week. They enter tonight’s game on a four-game winning streak. Three of those wins came against the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.
All this means that the Hawks don’t have much to play for on Wednesday. Mike Budenholzer has yet to reveal whether or not this means that he’ll rest key players against Indiana. It’s a tricky situation.
The Pacers still have something to play for. Indiana clinches a playoff spot with a victory, while the Miami Heat need a win and a Pacers or Chicago Bulls loss to get in. This game doesn’t impact the playoff race for Atlanta, but it does impact the race for others.
Do the Hawks have a moral (NBA morality not real morality) obligation to put their best foot forward? Also, as KL Chouinard noted on Twitter, the game is being broadcast on ESPN. The NBA might not like it if they roll out a lineup full of reserves.
It looks like Atlanta has decided to rest players anyway.
The Indiana Pacers, much like the Hawks, have had an up and down season. They were a trendy pick to rise towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings after an active off-season. Last summer they acquired Thaddeus Young and Jeff Teague in trades, signed Al Jefferson to boost their bench, and promoted former assistant Nate McMillan to head coach.
Adding that trio of players to a core of Paul George and Myles Turner sounded like the recipe for building a contender in the watered down East. Things haven’t quite worked out that way. With one game left in their season, the Pacers are 41-40. The epitome of mediocrity. They’ll finish as the 7th seed, 8th seed, or just out of the playoffs.
But they still have Paul George, so they’ll be a frightening matchup in a playoff series. George has been outstanding this season, as per usual. He’s averaging 23.6 points, 3.4 assists, and 6.5 rebounds per game on 46 percent shooting and 39.1 percent from three-point range.
Trade rumors swirled around him at the deadline, but Indiana decided to hold onto him. All-NBA voting could decide whether or not he remains a Pacer long-term. Consider this passage from Sports Illustrated.
An All-NBA selection would make George eligible for a contract extension worth upward of $200 million, which is around $70 million more than he otherwise could receive, with the exact numbers depending on the NBA salary cap. Designated Player Extensions are worth up to 35% of the cap, which is reportedly set to jump to around $101 million next season from this year’s $94.1 million mark. Whether or not the voters place George on an All-NBA team could cost him the opportunity for an even greater payday.
That would make staying in Indiana much more financially rewarding for George. If he is not selected for an All-NBA team, that could reopen trade talks this summer. Is George deserving of an All-NBA spot? That’s a tough call in today’s NBA. There are so many talented forwards that deserve recognition. Somebody that deserves a spot will inevitably be left off the team.
Former Hawk Jeff Teague is having a solid first season in Indiana. The Indianapolis native is averaging 15.2 points and 7.8 assists per game on 44 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from outside. Teague is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. I imagine the Pacers will be eager to re-sign him.
Sophomore big-man Myles Turner has made a significant jump in productivity this season. He’s averaging 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game on 51.1 percent shooting and 35.1 percent from deep. As he continues to develop, he will become the ideal center for the modern NBA. Even if Paul George leaves this summer or next, the Pacers have Turner to build around.
Indiana has also been part of the most entertaining story of the last few weeks. That, of course, is the rebirth of Lance Stephenson. Born Ready returned home to Indiana and has been relatively productive in five games as a Pacer.
It looks like his teammates and coaches are also happy to have him back. Stephenson was always at his best when captaining a bench unit. He was a second unit killer during the 2013-14 season with the Pacers.
The Hawks and Pacers have split the first two games of this season series. Atlanta won the first meeting, Indiana won the second meeting. The most recent game came down to the wire, with Glenn Robinson III hitting a go-ahead three-pointer with 0.6 seconds remaining.
Indiana has much more to play for tonight. Atlanta is probably the better team, but Mike Budenholzer has decided to rest his key players. The Hawks won’t have any incentive to go all out to win a meaningless regular season game. Their focus should be on the Washington Wizards.
Who: Atlanta Hawks (43-38) @ Indiana Pacers (41-40)
When: 8:00 PM EST, Wednesday, April 12th, 2017
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Prediction: Pacers 101 Hawks 94