NBA Playoff Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Indiana Pacers

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REGULAR SEASON RECORDS

Atlanta Hawks: 38-44 (8 seed)
Indiana Pacers: 56-26 (1 seed)

KEY INJURIES

Andrew Bynum hasn’t played since March 15, and the Pacers have officially ruled him out from participating in this series. Nothing new for the Hawks — Al Horford, Gustavo Ayon and John Jenkins have all been out for the season due to injury for a while now.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions)

Atlanta Hawks: Offense 103.4 (15th in the NBA). Defense 104.1 (14th in the NBA)

Indiana Pacers: Offense 101.5 (22nd in the NBA), Defense 96.7 (1st in the NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. Can Roy Hibbert get right? Hibbert started off the season on a Defensive Player of the Year pace, protecting the rim for the league’s top defense. He still may win the award, despite his personal (and the Pacers overall) drop-off since the All-Star break. But Hibbert’s honestly been a shell of himself on both ends of the floor recently, and with the Hawks starting Pero Antic at center who shoots 3.4 three-pointers per game, Hibbert is going to have his hands full if he’s the one responsible for that matchup. Whether it’s Antic or not, however, Hibbert needs to use this series against a weaker opponent to get himself back to anchoring the defense that his team will need to rely on in the postseason’s later rounds.

2. Atlanta’s three-point shooting: The Hawks were second in the league in three-pointers attempted during the regular season, averaging 25.8 per game which was second only to the Houston Rockets. They also feature the best shooter in the game from beyond the arc in Kyle Korver, who knocked down his shots from distance at a league-best 47.2 percent on the season. This is what Atlanta does, but they’ll need to do it much better against a Pacers team that doesn’t allow points in the paint very easily. Despite averaging the second most attempts from beyond the arc during the season, the Hawks converted them at a rate that was good enough for only 13th in the league — that number has got to go way up for Atlanta to have a chance at extending this series.

3. Indiana’s intensity: The Pacers were shot out of a cannon to begin the season, determined to make sure that they would finish the year with home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs after losing a Game 7 in Miami last season. Indiana achieved its goal, but stumbled to the finish line and compiled a record of just 16-14 since the All-Star break. The Pacers saw just how dangerous Atlanta can be when you don’t come mentally prepared, and were shellacked by the Hawks by 19 points back on April 6 in a game that wasn’t nearly that close. The Pacers will need to regain the swagger and team offensive cohesiveness that they proved capable of in the first half of the season.

PREDICTION

This really comes down to Indiana proving that they are still the best defensive team in the league, and using that to fuel an offense that struggles plenty in its half court sets. The Hawks likely light it up at least one game, but there shouldn’t be enough there to sustain success against a Pacers team that is built for the playoffs.

Pacers in 5.