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PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Indiana Pacers

Apr 19, 2013, 9:52 AM EDT

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

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.

  1. money2long - Apr 19, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    is it safe to say josh smith is the best player in this series ? and he hasn’t been an all star to date.

    • lucifershuttlesworth - Apr 19, 2013 at 6:27 PM

      I’d take Horford over J-Smoove all day, especially if you factor in that Al is a PF playing out of position at the 5. Paul George brings more to the table as well and has a much better feel for the game. Smith’s athleticism is elite but his inefficient and inconsistent play doesn’t produce many wins against good teams. His attitude can be considered questionable at best as well.

  2. money2long - Apr 19, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    the biggest problem with the pacers is that everyone in their starting lineup plays inconsistent basketball.

  3. chicitybulls - Apr 19, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    I dont know if I would diss NBA TV like that saying this series is on there because nobody will be watching. While TNT does the best job for basketball, NBA TV is second imo with espn thrid. For instance, last night espn did their 1 hr “playoff preview” show and they barely talked about all of the series. They picked their favorite 2 teams (heat and lakers) and did a lot of coverage on those 2 teams and then did a segment about pretty much plays of the year. While NBA TV had 2 1hr shows dedicated to the playoff series in each conference and dedicated a segment on each series. They did a MUCH better job than espn. NBA TV is the place where REAL basketball fans and not just fans of a network go for complete basketball coverage.

    • emosnar - Apr 19, 2013 at 2:14 PM

      absolutely

  4. madnova - Apr 19, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    If Horford is defending Brook Lopez this round, the Hawks are in serious trouble.

  5. wwttww - Apr 19, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    Hawks in 6

  6. sdb74 - Apr 19, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    J Smith is a knuckle head. Would rather have Horford. That being said, Paul George is the best player in this series.

  7. Jeff - Apr 20, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    Small market team vs a big market team that no one cares about, yeah NBA TV. That said a previous poster is right, espn provides the absolute worst coverage for NBA games.

  8. Jeff - Apr 20, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    Yep, no mention of the Hawks, Pacers series on ESPN’s playoff preview show.

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