Eastern Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks
Looking at the least compelling series an otherwise entertaining postseason has to offer. It’s Pacers vs. Hawks!
Aaron Weiss: First of all, big ups to the Hawks for getting to the playoffs with this team. I had them pegged as bottom dwellers this season, likely to dump Josh Smith for an unsatisfying player or two, and carry a funk around them all season long. Instead, they found a new leader in Al Horford, who took a nice-sized jump in his game, gaining the production he lost due to injury last season. Smith continued to be a consistent if unspectacular and sometimes-frustrating contributor. Jeff Teague took a little leap himself, averaging 14-7 while starting almost every game, and Kyle Korver brought production beyond PICK-AND-POP-PICK-AND-POP-PICK-AND-POP. It’s a shame Lou Williams got injured, otherwise he could be a nice little x-factor for them. Instead they are forced to turn to a bench with DeShawn Stevenson, Anthony Tolliver, and Johan Petro. They have some young talent that’s thrived when given the minutes in Shelvin Mack, John Jenkins and Mike Scott, but it’s hard to imagine them being trusted in the playoffs, or given the minutes with healthy starters.
They’re facing the eternally-forgotten threat, the Pacers. They’re kind of becoming the Spurs of the East, with inconsistent minute distribution, and inconsistent play from everybody, yet it has, by-and-large, worked out. At least well enough to get them the #3 seed. Even their wins and losses have been seemingly random. Take their schedule from January 23rd to February 26th: three losses in a row, followed by five wins in a row, then back-to-back OT losses followed by five wins in a row again. They’re doing it with guys like Jeff Pendergraph, Orlando Johnson, and Lance Stephenson getting significant minutes. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a Spurs team! The problem is that while the Spurs have consistency in Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, the Pacers have a (uh oh) plateaued Roy Hibbert, a wilting Paul George, and David West, who’s consistent, but not meant to function as the best player on a team. What the hell Paul George is doing right now is anybody’s guess, as he can only seem to be consistently good for two or three games, before being consistently bad to mediocre for two to three games. The past three games he’s averaged eight points on 22% shooting (15% from three) in 35 minutes of play per night. That is awful, no two ways about it. Look at the three games before those, though, and you’ll find averages of 24 points on 52% shooting (31% from three) in 41 minutes of play. The good news is that he’s been able to nab rebounds every night, no matter his scoring output, something that the Hawks guard counterparts cannot do. The frustration with Roy Hibbert comes from the fact that he’s intelligent enough and athletically gifted enough that he should be the best center in the East, and instead has put in plenty of 30+ minute games where he’s made no impact at all, and it’s inexcusable. Averaging 12 points and eight rebounds with his body and his moves? What the fuck happened? This guy should be averaging Dwight numbers. Ridiculous.
On reputation, this series shouldn’t be close, but I think these Hawks are gonna bring it. The Pacers need to get every guy playing at 100% percent effort, or else we might see us an upset.
Prediction: Pacers win 4-3
Spencer Lund: These two teams are so similar it’s scary, but the Pacers play better defense and I’d rather take David West in the playoffs than Josh Smith—though not for fantasy purposes. Both are composed of the anachronistic notion of front court dominance with Josh Smith and Al Horford* doing the Durty Bird for Atlanta and Roy Hibbert, David West and Psycho-T in the front court for Indiana. Both teams also possess point guards who could be considered under or over rated depending on the night in question with Jeff (I’m gonna get a nice raise this summer) Teague and George (what did the Spurs know that we don’t?) Hill. Both possess wing players who can be streaky from three-point land, the sort of irascible charm that can ignite an opponent or totally psych them out, and who just so happen to share a homophone surname in Lance Stephenson and DeShawn Stevenson (no word on whether Lance is thinking about an ATM in his apartment). Both have players, Lou Williams and Danny Granger, that would change this series if they were healthy.
They’re very, very similar, but Indiana plays much much better defense as a team, and the Hawks aren’t that much better offensively. Atlanta gives up 5 points more per 100 possessions as the Pacers do, but that makes sense as the Pacers lead the league in defensive efficiency this season. But the Hawks are only 15th in the league in scoring efficiency. After being in the bottom 10 for most of the season in offensive efficiency, the Pacers have pulled themselves up to 18th in offensive efficiency. The Pacers score enough to win, and the Hawks don’t play good enough defense to change that.
That’s what it’ll come down to: Indiana’s defense will trump their similarities everywhere else, and afterwards we’ll all start the stupid debate about whether Josh Smith deserves a max contract (he doesn’t, but someone will offer him one).
Prediction: Indiana wins, 4-2
Michael Pina: The Pacers are the best defensive team in basketball. Paul George and Roy Hibbert are both legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Defense is important.
The Hawks score 102.7 points per 100 possessions, which makes them average; since the All-Star break they didn’t show any signs of improvement (according to NBA.com/Stats they were the NBA’s 15th most efficient offense in 31 games after the All-Star break).
These games will be morose and rightfully designated to the shadows of NBA TV. In the end, Indiana’s defense will hold its hands around Atlanta’s neck until the second round starts. If you’re the type of NBA fan who’s grossly sadistic, you’ll love everything about this series.
Prediction: Indiana wins, 4-1
*I would like to humbly adopt the nickname “Big Al” for Mr. Horford after not-so-big Al Jefferson’s drop in play in the middle of the season limited Utah’s offenive play and has them on the edge of missing the playoffs after making it back in last season.