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Hawks look to continue playoff push in battle with Pacers

Mar 22, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA;  Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) calls a play as Minnesota Timberwolves guard Mike Conley (10) defends in the second quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks hope to solidify their playoff chances when they start a three-game homestand on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers, who are trying to keep their own hopes alive.

The Hawks are coming off a 125-124 road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, but they have won their past two home games and are 20-15 at home this season.

Atlanta (36-37) is No. 8 in the Eastern Conference but only a half-game ahead of the No. 9 Toronto Raptors (36-38) and one game in front of the No. 10 Chicago Bulls (35-38).

Indiana is 14-24 on the road after a 120-95 loss at Boston on Friday. The Pacers are 1-2 on their current road trip, which concludes in Atlanta.

Indiana (33-41) is tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Wizards (33-41), with both teams trailing Chicago by 2 1/2 games for the final spot in the play-in tournament.

“We’re still in a position to make this play-in tournament,” Pacers center Myles Turner said. “That’s everyone in this locker room’s goal is to get to that spot.”

Indiana’s Aaron Nesmith added, “I think it’d be huge for us. We’ve exceeded expectations for this year. For us to be able to go out there and make the play-in and make the playoffs would be huge for us, huge for the organization. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Pacers and Hawks split their two previous meetings this season, both in Indianapolis. The Hawks won 113-111 in the most recent contest on Jan. 13 when John Collins made the game-winning basket with 0.7 seconds left to play. Atlanta’s Onyeka Okongwu amassed 18 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.

The Hawks swept the four-game series a year ago.

Atlanta is expected to get guard Dejounte Murray back on Saturday. Murray, the team’s second-leading scorer, missed the past two games win a non-COVID illness. Reserve Jalen Johnson, who has missed four games with left hamstring tightness and a groin strain, will be out again on Saturday.

Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton returned from a sprained right ankle and bruised knee that caused him to miss six games and scored 20 points in the loss to Boston. Chris Duarte (sore left ankle) missed Friday’s game.

Atlanta missed a chance to gain ground due to the one-point loss on Wednesday, a game which the NBA revealed the officials made five mistakes — four of them in favor of the Timberwolves — during the final two minutes. That revelation caused Atlanta star Trae Young to add his name to the list of players and coaches who want referees to be held accountable for their mistakes.

“This goes back to my statement I said at the beginning of the year,” Young stated on an Instagram post. “Refs should be held more accountable, just like us. They shouldn’t get, ‘We missed it’ passes.”

Atlanta is having no trouble scoring points. In the 14 games since the All-Star break, the Hawks are averaging 122.9 points — third most in the NBA — on 49.9 percent shooting, 38.5 percent from 3-point range and 81.7 percent from the line. The Hawks have scored 100-plus points in 48 straight games, the second-longest streak in franchise history and the longest active streak in the NBA.

–Field Level Media

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