Teams that enter the playoffs with a sub .500 record don’t usually do too well, but the Atlanta Hawks are hoping to change that. The Indiana Pacers are also looking for something of a turnaround, but it has more to do with their ability this season, which has been very poor heading into the postseason through the second half of the 2013-2014 season.
The Pacers started the season at 33-7, but finished on 23-19, including 16-14 after the All-Star break and 12-13 through their last 25 games, just like the Atlanta Hawks. Can they just shift things around because it’s crunch time? Only 2 teams in NBA history finished with a sub .500 record over their last 25 games of the regular season and then went on to win the title (1957-58 Hawks and 1994-95 Rockets).
The Hawks are also facing some historical facts they hope to overcome. Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1983-84, teams that entered the postseason with a sub .500 record are just 2-40 in playoff series. The 1986-87 SuperSonics (.476 win pct) were the only team to win a series, defeating the Mavericks in the First Round and Rockets in the Conference Semifinals.
So what needs to happen? Just like last year, the contrasts are clear. The Hawks want to run and shoot, keeping the ball away from the paint. When it comes to trying and break the Pacers down by force, the Hawks simply don’t have the right personnel for that. They have five players who can all stretch the floor and shoot 3’s, and that is going to be the way for them to open up the Pacers defense, the most efficient in the league, although it hasn’t been very special over the last couple of months this season.
Indiana feel confident after winning the last couple of games this season and also hoping that their bench is going to be consistent and smart enough in the minutes it gets. Evan Turner and Luis Scola are the keys there, but the Pacers need to hope Ian Manhimi doesn’t make them cling on to Roy Hibbert too much. And speaking of Hibbert…
He averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds last year in the postseason. He shot just 23.5% from the field during April, is 1-of-16 from the field in the last two games and averaged just 3.2 rebounds over the last 13. The Pacers can live without his points, but they need Hibbert to be the same reliable rock he is in the paint defensively like he’s been during the first half of the season.
Predictions – The Hawks won in Indiana by 19 points the last time the two teams have played. Maybe the Pacers haven’t fixed all of their issues, but they’re going to be focused enough to let their advantages shine through and pick up the opening game.