The current statistics suggest the matchup between Roy Hibbert and Al Horford should be pretty even.
Hibbert averages 16.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.0 blocked shots. Horford averages 17.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 0.86 blocks.
History, however, foretells a much different story.
That's why, when the Pacers face Horford's Hawks Tuesday in Conseco Fieldhouse, it will represent one of the most important games of the early season for Hibbert.
"I don't know if there's any game that's not important as a yardstick for Roy," said Coach Jim O'Brien. "He's a third-year center. He's got a different body than he had last year. Whether you're guarding an Al Horford or anybody that is smaller and quicker than you, the challenge is to be at the front of the rim offensively and defensively the whole game.
"I think for Roy, there are going to be 82 regular-season challenges. They all have different faces. Horford one night, you're going to have (Chris) Kaman (of the Clippers) another night or Orlando with Dwight Howard another night. They're all challenges. Certainly any time Roy plays against a very quick guy we'll have a chance to see how far he's come."
This one, however, is a benchmark game for Hibbert.
The Pacers have lost six in a row to the Hawks, all with Hibbert in the lineup. In those games, Horford has averaged 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds while shooting .646 from the field. Hibbert has averaged 8.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and .383 shooting.
The last time the Pacers beat the Hawks (Nov. 18, 2008), Rasho Nesterovic started at center and scored 21 points. Horford left in the first quarter with a sprained ankle.
Guys like Horford are a big reason Hibbert put himself through that staggering offseason conditioning program. He wanted to shed weight, increased his footspeed and agility specifically to contend with smaller, quicker opponents.
"That was one of the guys during the summer I watched tape on every possession I had on him, offensively and defensively," Hibbert said. "I scouted him during the summer and I want to have a good game, period. I just want to be able to play defense really well, get rebounds, get stops and move the ball.
"Practically every big I played against last year at least two or more times I scouted so hopefully I can do better this year."
Kaman's Clippers visit Thursday and Howard's Magic come to Conseco Fieldhouse Saturday, so this will be a busy week for Hibbert. But Horford is the guy at the front of the line of challenges.
"I think that Roy has to prove over a period of time that he can handle or play solidly against a Horford," said O'Brien. "I believe Horford was an All-Star last year, which means he was playing well against a lot of people other than the Indiana Pacers.
"He's a really kind of a great success story because he's an under-sized center, he's really quick and he can shoot the basketball from mid-range. He's challenge for Roy and Roy's got to show that he can negate some of the things Horford does, make sure he baits Horford into challenged jump shots and make sure he's able to stay in front of him and not give him straight-line drives to the basket."
FAST BREAKS …
--Darren Collison sprained his right ankle during practice Monday and his status for Tuesday's game is uncertain. If he can't go, T.J. Ford likely would start with A.J. Price available for the first time this season as the backup.
--Tyler Hansbrough, who sprained his left ankle in the second quarter against Cleveland Saturday, did not practice and is day-to-day.
--Jeff Foster, who has yet to play this season and missed the past couple of weeks with an ankle sprain, was back at practice Monday and may be available against the Hawks.