Indiana Pacers players stand during a time out in an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis

PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Indiana Pacers

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SEASON RECORDS
Atlanta: 44-38, six seed in East
Indiana: 49-32, third seed in East

SEASON SERIES
Tied at 2-2. The Hawks won the first two, the Pacers the final two.

KEY INJURIES
Atlanta: The Hawks will be without Zaza Pachulia (Achilles surgery) and Lou Williams (ACL).

Indiana: Danny Granger is still out following left knee surgery, but he has been out almost all season.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)
Hawks: offense 102.7 (15th in NBA) defense 101.8 (10th in)
Pacers: offense 101.6 (19th in NBA), defense 96.6 (1st in NBA)

Differential: Pacers +5 (6th in NBA), Hawks +0.9 (13th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR ATLANTA

Jeff Teague: Atlanta always seems to be waiting for Teague to be aggressive. And when he is the Hawks are a much better team. Both Teague and Devin Harris are going to have to have a big series here — look back at the two Hawks regular season wins over the Pacers and you see Lou Williams carve up the Pacers defense, breaking them down and making plays. Williams is out after knee surgery, now Teague and Harris have to take over that role.

Hit their midrange looks: What the Pacers do on defense is follows the Spurs model — protect the paint, run guys off the three point line and make you take the less efficient midrange shots. It’s a good strategy. But you can put points on the board if you can knock down midrange shots and the Hawks are going to get a lot of those looks. Hit them Atlanta can do damage.

Al Horford: He can knock down midrange shots, which helps with the point above. But it is more than that — Horford’s ability to play away from the basket should draw Roy Hibbert out of the paint some, opening up driving lanes for Teague and Harris. Whether running the 4/5 pick-and-roll or just in the flow of the offense he is going to have to score a lot, defend like a beast on Brook Lopez and have a monster series for the Hawks to have a chance.

THREE KEYS FOR INDIANA

Get their defensive groove back: On the season, the Pacers have the best defense in the NBA. But in past few weeks they have not been — in the final 10 games of the season they allowed 105.3 points per 100 possessions. That is nearly 9 points per 100 more than their season average. Put simply, they don’t score enough for their defense to be anything less than elite.

George Hill: You know the Pacers are going to get offense from David West, as solid pick-and-pop big as there is in the league. Paul George will get his. But the Pacers need more offense to come from somewhere and the most likely candidate is George Hill. He averaged 14.2 points a game in the regular season, if he can have a couple big games against the Hawks the Pacers are much closer to advancing.

Limit turnovers: The Indiana Pacers turn the ball over 16.2 percent of their possessions, second highest percentage in the league. The top spot on the list goes to the Houston Rockets, but they play a fast-and-loose style and can make it up more easily. For the Pacers every possession has to be more precious in their grind-it-out style and they need to take better care of the ball. It’s the Pacers’ bigs that need to change this — David West and Roy Hibbert each average more than two turnovers a game, they need to get that number down. Lance Stephenson is the other guy that can’t have one of those games.

OUTLOOK

This is the least anticipated of the first round matchups. This is going to be the NBA TV series because nobody will be watching. On one side you have the favorite that shuts other teams down but can’t really score themselves. On the other side you have a Hawks team where we feel like we’ve seen this movie before — be physical with them, play hard and they retreat.

Hawks GM Danny Ferry is remaking this roster — he traded Joe Johnson to Brooklyn last summer and this summer they are going to watch Josh Smith walk. This feels like a team that is crumbling and down the stretch they went 4-6 in their last 10. They seemed disinterested. It feels like if the Pacers get a couple early wins the Hawks will start making golf reservations.

I expect the Pacers to get their defensive groove back and smother the Hawks, but that’s the key. If the Pacers play like they did the last 10 or so games of the season — if they don’t defend — the Hawks will be right in this series. And the Hawks have talent, Horford and Smith will have huge games if they get the space to operate.

I just don’t see that happening. I see physical, low scoring, grinding gams that are exactly the way the Pacers want them. I see their defense just throwing a blanket over the Hawks while Paul George and David West give them enough to win.

PREDICTION:

Pacers in 5.

Report: Kings forward Matt Barnes wanted for questioning after alleged New York nightclub fight

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks on against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Matt Barnes infamously fought then-Knicks coach Derek Fisher for dating Barnes’ estranged wife, Gloria Govan. Barnes even bragged that violence is sometimes the answer.

His self-earned reputation won’t earn him the benefit of the doubt over an incident earlier today.

TMZ:

Sacramento Kings star Matt Barnes is wanted by NYPD for questioning after he allegedly choked a woman inside a nightclub early Monday morning — and TMZ Sports got video of him right after the incident.

Law enforcement sources tell us cops got a 911 call to Avenue Nightclub after midnight, reporting a man assaulting 2 women and another man. We’re told things got physical when Barnes allegedly choked one woman during an argument — and when 2 other people tried to intervene … he punched both of them.

In the video, Matt and a teammate — it appears to be DeMarcus Cousins — are talking about the fight. The teammate is clearly heard saying, “Matt hit the s*** out this ni***!”

Barnes was also arrested for domestic violence against Govan in 2011. But she said the incident was blown out of proportion, and the charges were dropped.

The Kings have already played at the Knicks and Nets, so Sacramento doesn’t return to New York this season.

Warriors G Klay Thompson supports Steve Kerr in medicinal marijuana use

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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who was out for part of last season with an excruciating back injury, admitted that he had at one point tried medicinal marijuana to ease his constant pain. Several people have come out in support of Kerr, including Golden State’s own Klay Thompson.

Speaking to the media, Thompson said that he felt his coach was right to try to battle his high amount of pain with marijuana if it helped him.

Thompson also pointed out that there are numerous other diseases that medical marijuana have been shown to lower pain levels in patients.

From CSN Bay Area:

Steve is open minded. Obviously with the way the world is going if there’s anything you can do thats medicinal, people are all for it. Especially when there’s stuff like Crohn’s disease, glaucoma — a bunch of stuff — cancer. But not recreationally of it’s use, ever. There’s obviously a medicinal side to it that people are finding out have benefits, especially people with really high pain.

Nice of Thompson to have Kerr’s back, even if he did backdoor cover the issue of recreational use at the end. A tough spot to be in for a player speaking on a substance that the NBA itself does not allow.

Warriors teammate Draymond Greenbetween kickings — also came out in support of Kerr, saying that that, “Any vegetable that comes from the earth, they encourage you to eat it.”

While I don’t think that’s strictly true, to each their own, I suppose. I think we’re all just glad Kerr is feeling better.

Three things we learned Sunday: Russell Westbrook has entered the Jordan zone

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after shooting a 3 point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Oklahoma City won 101-92. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Associated Press
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Here is what you need to know from around the NBA Sunday, in case you were busy dodging Santas on the ski slopes

1) Russell Westbrook enters Jordan territory with fifth straight triple-double — and Thunder keep winning.
“”I am truly a fan of his… when I watch him play, I see a lot of resemblance of his passion for the game of basketball [to] the way I played the game of basketball.” That was Michael Jordan last month describing Russell Westbrook as he introduced Westbrook for the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

Now Westbrook is entering The Jordan Zone — Sunday night he recorded his fifth straight triple-double with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists. The last guy to record five-straight triple-doubles? Jordan, who had seven straight back in 1989. Westbrook continues to average a triple-double for the season (31 points, 10.8 rebounds and 11.3 assists), the last guy to do that this deep into a season was Oscar Robertson (the year of the Kennedy assassination).

But here’s what’s more important — the Thunder are 5-0 during this streak. Westbrook has 10 triple-doubles this season and the Thunder are 8-2 when he has one, they are 5-6 when he does not. The Thunder have a Top 10 defense this season, but they need Westbrook to carry the offense to get wins. So far, he’s been able to do that at an MVP pace.

2) DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis put up big numbers again, their teams fall short again. Not everybody can put up monster numbers and get their team a win. Sunday night DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points (on 9-of-30 shooting, just 4-of-13 inside 5 feet) plus 12 rebounds for the Sacramento Kings. But the Kings shot 32 percent as a team and lost to the Knicks 196-98.

Then there was Anthony Davis, who had 37 points (on 14-of-32 shooting) and 15 rebounds for New Orleans, but the rest of the team shot just 33.3 percent, and the Pelicans fell to the Thunder 101-92. Davis continues to lead the league in scoring at 31.8 points per game, and the Pelicans are playing better since the return of Jrue Holiday, but they remain four games back of a playoff spot, and that’s going to be a tough climb the rest of the season.

3) Clippers slip back to bad habits, fall to Pacers. We thought the Clippers had turned a corner. After three ugly losses on the road they showed maturity of spirit and game we hadn’t seen from them, bouncing back to knock off the Cavaliers and then Pelicans on a back-to-back. It seemed these Clippers were different.

Then there was Sunday. Los Angeles raced out to a 23-8 lead against Indiana, then proceeded to let all their bad habits take over again. The Clipper bench struggled again — when Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan were on the court together Sunday the Clippers were +11, when they weren’t combined the Clippers were -20. The Clipper defense was inconsistent and allowed the Pacers to get 58 points in the paint. Los Angeles turned the ball over 20 times.

Credit the Pacers for showing some fight. Paul George struggled with his shot but found a way to make plays. Jeff Teague did a good job defensively on Chris Paul. Thaddeus Young was making veteran plays and carrying the offense. Rodney Stucky was fantastic off the bench.

Still, these are the kinds of games an “elite” Clippers team should win. Los Angeles has lost four of six. Which Clipper team will we see Wednesday against the Warriors?

Russell Westbrook’s 5th straight triple-double lifts Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dunks ahead of New Orleans Pelicans forward Terrence Jones (9) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Oklahoma City won 101-92. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Associated Press
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook became the first player with five consecutive triple-doubles since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989 and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 101-92 on Sunday night.

Westbrook finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. The Thunder have won all five games during Westbrook’s triple-double stretch. It was Westbrook’s 10th triple-double of the season and the 47th of his career.

Enes Kanter had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Victor Oladipo added 15 points for the Thunder.

Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading scorer, had 37 points and 15 rebounds for the Pelicans. Buddy Hield, who led nearby Oklahoma to the Final Four last season, scored 16 points in his first game back in the state.

Oklahoma City led 49-41 at halftime. Westbrook had 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists at the break, and Davis kept the Pelicans in it with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Westbrook threw down a vicious right-handed jam on a drive down the middle in the third quarter that gave Oklahoma City a 57-47 lead. He clinched the triple-double on an assist to Kanter for a dunk with 2:14 left in the third quarter. The Thunder took a 78-66 lead into the fourth quarter.

Hield drained a 3-pointer to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to four with just under two minutes to go, but Westbrook’s 3 with 51.3 seconds to go bumped the Thunder’s lead back to 99-92.

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Hield got a standing ovation when he checked in late in the first half. … G Jrue Holiday started for just the third time this season. He missed the first 12 games while his wife, former U.S. women’s national team soccer player Lauren Holiday, recovered from surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.

Thunder: Made 14 of 15 2-point shots and missed all nine of their 3-pointers in the first quarter. … C Steven Adams sprained his left ankle in the first quarter and did not return. … The Thunder missed all 15 3-point attempts in the first half, then made 6 of 13 in the second. … Westbrook leads active players in career triple-doubles. … Thunder are 26-2 the past two seasons when Westbrook has a triple-double.

 

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.