NBA Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers (3) vs Atlanta Hawks (6)

Written by Javeen Rob

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nba.si.com

Season series outcome: Each team won two games a piece

Record:
Indiana: 49 W – 32 L
Atlanta: 44 W – 38 L

How they got here:

For much of the season, story lines coming out of the Atlanta were dominated by the question about what the franchise would do with free-agent to be Josh Smith. Not being able to find a suitable package in return, the Hawks tabled the contract talks and played out the rest of the season, finding themselves in the lower end of the playoff standings.

By virtue of a two games losing streak at the tail end of the season, the Hawks dropped from the 5th seed, where they would have matched up against the Brooklyn Nets, to the 6th position, now locked in a series with the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers struggled early in the season without their star forward Danny Granger. But thanks to their stingy defense, the emergence of Paul George, and the surprising production from Lance Stephenson (whom I refer to as #RedemptionStory), Indy has found a way to stem tide and position themselves as the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference.

Contrasting styles of play:

The Pacers, by design, play at one of the slowest paces in the league (5th slowest to be exact), preferring to walk the ball up the court, call out sets, and allow their big men to work down low. We can expect a lot post entry passes to either Roy Hibbert or David West. Last postseason, the Pacer guards had trouble with getting the ball over the defense and into the post, so it will be interesting to see if they have learned from that. David West will no doubt be featured in a lot of pick ‘n pops, which have been his bread and butter scoring option throughout his career. Because of their mobile bigs, the Hawks should be able to cutoff some of that screen action. Despite playing a methodical style, the Pacers have trouble keeping possession of the ball, as they turn it over an average of 14.5 times per game (6th highest in the NBA). They would be wise to keep Atlanta from getting easy buckets off of turnovers. Indiana struggles scoring the ball as they shoot a below-average 44% from the field.

Atlanta has no such issue. Playing at the league’s 12th fastest pace, the Hawks score 98 points per game by using their athleticism and spreading the floor with 3-point shooters. Atlanta converts 37% of their 23 3-point shot attempts per game. Interestingly enough, the Pacers are one of the best (if not the best) teams at defending the 3-point shot. They prevent the opposition from taking a lot of shots from beyond the arch by running opponents of the 3-point line, evidenced by the 2nd lowest attempted threes by their opponents. As if the small volume of threes weren’t enough, opposing teams shoot a meager 32.7% from deep–the lowest percentage in the league. Judging by that, the Hawks may have trouble utilizing one of their strengths. If they can’t attempt threes they’ll either have to settle for a mid range jumper or attempt to get to the line, neither of which can be defined as a strength of theirs. Also of note, the Pacers rarely give up free throws to opponents, so the Hawks will likely have to take long two’s– bad news for J-Smoove.

Rebounding importance:

Simply put, the Pacers are the best rebounding team in the league, particularly on the defensive boards. This is an area that Atlanta struggles mightily in, possessing a -2.8 rebounding margin for the season. To make matters worse, Atlanta’s best rebounder Zaza Pachulia is out for the a long time with a torn Achilles. Zaza’s per-36 rebounding numbers before he got hurt were 4.2 ORB, 6.5 DRB, and 10.7 TRB. Although Josh Smith and Al Horford combine for 18 rebounds a night, their teammates account for very little.
Pacers keys to victory:
-Play their style; the slower pace favors them.
-Keep Atlanta out of transition. Indy’s bigs can not keep up with Josh Smith and  Al Horford
-Control the boards
-Bully ball: pin Atlanta’s bigs below the free throw line, which also may slow down their transition
-Make successful entry passes
-Stephenson and Paul George have to take advantage of Kyle Korver, John Jenkins, and Devin Harris
-Bench production
 Hawks keys to victory:
-Need for speed: get out and run early
-Find a way to box out
-Swing the ball with crisp passes  and spread Indy’s defenders out
-Get Roy Hibbert in foul trouble
-Get easy shots and make them when against Indy’s elite defense
-Good guard play from Jeff Teague and Devin Harris
My prediction: Indiana in 5
Schedule (courtesy of NBA.com)
Game 1 – Sun April 21, Atlanta at Indiana, 1 p.m., TNT
Game 2 – Wed April 24, Atlanta at Indiana, 7:30 p.m., NBA TV
Game 3 – Sat April 27, Indiana at Atlanta, 7 p.m., ESPN
Game 4 – Mon April 29, Indiana at Atlanta, TBD, TBD
Game 5 * Wed May 1, Atlanta at Indiana, TBD, TBD
Game 6 * Fri May 3, Indiana at Atlanta, TBD, TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 5, Atlanta at Indiana, TBD, TBD

Written by 

CEO/Founder of My Mind on Sports For More Information on Wilson, check out his Bio in the "Team" Section Follow Wilson on Twitter: @Willietspeaks

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