Two teams with a very different approach to the game enter the first round series in the NBA playoffs with the Indiana Pacers being the slight favorites to come away with a second round berth against the Atlanta Hawks, hoping that their physical disadvantage doesn’t become too much of a disadvantage.
The Hawks give up size and athleticism, but their approach to play fast basketball and push through the open floor might be their way of countering the Indiana Pacers’ length and ability to stop teams with their excellent half court defense. The problem? Their transition defense isn’t that bad either. The Hawks are the second best team in the NBA when it comes to fastbreak efficiency, but the Indiana Pacers are the best in the league when it comes to stopping the fast break.
If that doesn’t work for the Hawks, relying on the speed of Jeff Teague and Devin Harris and the ability of Kyle Korver to knock down the open shots (45.7% this season), then it’s going to be about Josh Smith and Al Horford making their way through the paint in an attempt to simply overpower and get the wins through individual ability. Smith is averaging only 13.3 points per game against the Pacers this season. Horford has done better with 16 points, but it seems getting them to have explosive games against Roy Hibbert and the long arms of George and West is a lot to ask.
For the Pacers, it’s about their defense keeping the Hawks at bay, while Roy Hibbert and Paul George attack the basket non-stop, taking advantage of the Hawks’ shorter squad and lack of mass below the basket. Hibbert is in the best offensive form of his career, averaging 18.6 points over the last 10 games, making 55.5% of his field goals attempt. Paul George is in a shooting funk, with 36.6% from the field over the last 10 games, but if he sticks to the easier shots instead of forcing them, while doing the rest as well as always (7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists this season), the Pacers should be fine.
Predictions – Home court advantage seems to be very important in this series, and the Pacers, despite being the kind of team that’s basketball style should fit very well everywhere are much harder to breakdown at home. It seems like the streak of home wins in the first round is going to continue.