David West, Josh Smith

Two teams that have really slowed down late in the season enter a series that in the regular season was all about the home team, but as we enter a shorter times span of meetings between them, it’s hard to find anyone who thinks the Atlanta Hawks have a chance of beating the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers were supposed to become the number 2 team in the East this season, and they were, for a while. After beating the Miami Heat in February it looked like they might even be some sort of threat on the top spot, but a terrible April, with Paul George and George Hill falling off their feet from playing starters minutes during an entire season for the first time in their career really hurt the Pacers consistency and more importantly their offense, which is in the bottom half of the NBA, just like the Hawks.

Atlanta won only 11 games in the final couple of months. Larry Drew has been complaining all season about certain players’ effort, but nothing has changed. Josh Smith isn’t really happy he stayed with the Hawks, but his game has been pretty much the same all season, but it seemed he, and Al Horford, peaked a little bit too soon, and might be on their way down heading into the most important stretch of the season which some predict is going to be the last time the Hawks make the playoffs in the next few seasons.

For the Pacers, the secret is clear. Paul George may be the most talented player and scorer on this team, not to mention their most versatile defender on a team with the best scoring defense in the league, allowing only 96.2 points per 100 possessions (scoring 100.2 points), but David West is the team’s most important player. West was at his best during the Pacers’ best month, February, averaging 20.7 points per game, and his ability to direct the offense from the post is the best offensive weapon the Pacers have.

For the Hawks, it’s Jeff Teague trying to create speed against a team that’s the best in the NBA in stopping fast breaks. Al Horford is going to have himself some very tough battles in the paint with Roy Hibbert and Josh Smith, if he managed to overcome his tendency to shoot jumpers instead of doing the harder thing and work in the paint, might be a game changer in what looks like an advantage for the Pacers.

Predictions – Pacers in 6.