The Indiana Pacers finished up the the season by reaching their long term goal: the No. 1 Seed in the Eastern Conference. It wasn’t an easy road to get there, but somehow the Pacers managed crawl to the finish line suck just a little bit less than the Miami Heat down the stretch.
The Pacers are rewarded with a series against the Atlanta Hawks to open up the playoffs. The Hawks finished with a 38-44 record, but were 2-2 against the Pacers. This is the same Hawks team that dismantled Indiana just 12 days ago on their home court.
The Pacers faced Atlanta last season in the first round of the playoffs as well, defeating them in six games. But these two teams look nothing like last years counterparts. The Pacers have struggled with Atlanta for the past few season and this hasn’t been an exception.
Here’s what stands out in this series:
- Three-point shooting. Atlanta has killed the Pacers with threes this season. They’ve shot 40-percent from the arc against Indiana and averaged a league 25 attempts per game. The Pacers defend the arc well, and generally force opponents to abandon contested threes with tight perimeter defense. The Hawks run a lineup with five different players who can all hit outside jumpers and that is incredibly difficult for the Pacers to guard. It makes how the next person plays very important…
- Roy Hibbert. To say he has been playing poorly lately would be an understatement. Even playing against the Magic in the regular season finale, a game to boost his confidence, he was just 1-for-7 from the field. The problem with Hibbert and the Hawks is that he becomes a liability, effectively negating the focal point of the Pacers defense. The Hawks have multiple post players who can stretch the floor, which pulls Hibbert away from the rim thus creating inside lanes for passing and driving. The Pacers need to adjust to this in some fashion to keep him on the court. There also isn’t a big on the Hawks that can effectively guard Hibbert, so he needs to leave his impact on the game at the other end of the hardwood.
- Paul George‘s Efficiency. He opened up the season shooting a blistering 47-percent from the field in November. Since then, he’s seen his shooting percentage drop every month down to 37-percent in March. He’s taken roughly 17 shots per game all year long, but the quality of each jumper has started to drop. George is most effective when he finds his shots within the offense as opposed to trying to create his own. He’s tried to put the team on his back in recent months and is hasn’t been effective. He’s also struggled on a mechanical level with his jumper and needs to fine tune what he’s doing on the court.
- George Hill‘s Aggressiveness. Hill has lately become a passive observer of the games. He’s not really doing anything on the court to leave an impact on offense and has been beaten down lately defensively. He has to enter each game in attack mode, especially against another hometown hero in Jeff Teague. How Hill plays against Teague could tip the series, or at least make it take longer than it should.
- Leadership. On any given night, David West is the most battle tested man on the court. He is supposed to be the veteran presence that keeps the team on track and gets them focused for big games. West needs to crank it into high gear and I don’t think it will be an issue. He plays well in big games and with no more back-to-backs, he won’t be hampered by limited rest. Expect West to be the MVP of this series.
The Pacers are as healthy as they have been all season. CJ Watson returned late in the year from a calf injury and gave a huge boost to the bench. It wasn’t talked about much, but his absence really hurt the effectiveness of the second unit.
Only Andrew Bynum won’t be available in the first series, but that isn’t much of a surprise. He only appeared in two games all season and anything they get from him would be shocking.
Despite limping to the finish line, the Pacers should still runaway with this series. Indiana is more talented top to bottom and should use the opening round to start playing like they did in November once again. I take the Pacers in six games.