The Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers will be in a battle in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The 1st seeded Indiana Pacers and the 8th seeded Atlanta Hawks have played each other 4 times during the regular season, and split the games 2-2.
The Pacers are coming into the playoffs struggling, as they finished off the season 12-13 since March. The Hawks almost gave the 8 seed to the Knicks, but heated up near the last couple of games and grabbed the 8 seed.
The Hawks need to take advantage of the Pacers rough end, and use their mismatches to their advantage.
The Hawks, Pero Antic, will be a big mismatch in favor of Atlanta. Antic is a big man, but actually lives off of three pointers and outside the paint. Roy Hibbert, on the other hand, is known to never leave the paint, or only leave for dire circumstances. Antic torched the Pacers in the Hawks two wins this season, as he scored 16 points and 18 points in the two wins (6-10 from three). On the other hand, when the Pacers won, Antic was injured and never played. Roy Hibbert will have to leave his comfort zone at times, and leave the paint to guard the three. However, when he does this, the lane opens up and Jeff Teague has lanes to drive. Teague had 15 and 25 points in the two wins, compared to only 9 and 8 in the losses.
On the Pacers offense, Roy Hibbert seems to struggle when Antic plays. Whether it is from fatigue of running outside of the paint, or Antic knowing how to play Roy, Hibbert has really struggled against Antic. In the two Pacers losses, Hibbert shot a combined 1-13, grabbed 4 rebounds, and only scored 2 points. When the Pacers won, Roy shot 8-19, grabbed 11 rebounds, and scored 18 points. Hibbert has been the Pacers X factor all year, and in the Hawks and Pacers series, he will be the X factor again.
Going along with the Pacers scoring, the Pacers biggest problem in the recent struggles was defense. They still had the best defense in the NBA, but they couldn't score! When the Pacers lost to the Hawks, they shot 40% and 41% from the floor. When the Pacers won, they shot 46% and 50% from the floor! Now, with everyone struggling, Hibbert (The X factor) really struggling, and facing mismatches on defense, the Pacers will have to improve their offense to win the series.
Although I do see this as an upset waiting to happen, I still put my faith in Frank Vogel and Larry Bird. I do not see the Pacers coming out and sweeping the Hawks, but I do see the Pacers upping their scoring, George and Hibbert picking up their play, and them winning the series.
Still, if anyone is looking for the most possible 1 vs 8 or 2 vs 7 upset, this is the series to watch.
Keys to Series:
Pero Antic - Can he pull Hibbert out of the paint?
Jeff Teague - Will he have driving lanes to the basket?
Hibbert - Can he raise his play in the playoffs?
Pacers offense - Can the Pacers find a way to score?