Hawks/Pacers NBA Playoff Preview Q&A with Indy Cornrows

Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows and myself answer the same awesome questions in a quest to understand this series better.

Guests first, I always say.

Here are the incredibly insightful questions I asked Tom about the series and his timeless answers -- enjoy!

Pacers Side:

1. Summarize the Pacers season for Hawks fans who only witnessed the four games Atlanta played them this season.

Bad, good, great, bad.

The season started poorly with news the Danny Granger would be out for an extended period of time and then on the floor, the Pacers lost six of their first seven road games and appeared to be a team that would hover around .500 until Granger could return.

Then Paul George happened.

After scoring no points against the Warriors, better knowns as the Golden State Goose Egg, PG altered his game prep and turned into a monster at both ends of the court. This led to an All-Star selection and a 10-5 December with some hope.

The Pacers continued to play well, dominating at home and as Roy Hibbert's offensive game started coming around played their best ball of the season in late March while sweeping a four-game road trip over the Rockets, Mavericks (who were rolling at the time), Suns (who were not) and Clippers. After the trip, the bottom fell out and the Pacers dumped five of their last six games while trailing by at least 20 points in all six of those games. Yeah, so here we are.

2. How will we know if the Pacers are on their game?

If the Pacers are allowing one-shot possessions, that leave one or more Hawks looking in disbelief at the officials while the ball is racing up the court the other way, you'll know the Pacers are on their game. Also, if they are swinging the ball from side to side and knocking down open shots, then that's another sign they are dialed in and going to be touch to beat.

If Paul George and/or Roy Hibbert pick up a couple of early fouls and have to exit the game, the Pacers are off their game. -Tom Lewis, Indy Cornrows

3. How will we know if they are off their game?

If Paul George and/or Roy Hibbert pick up a couple of early fouls and have to exit the game, the Pacers are off their game. If they are losing the battle on the glass and on pace for a 20-turnover game, then they are off their game.

4. Biggest key for the Pacers in this series will be......?

Keeping key players, notably Paul George, out of foul trouble. PG sets the tone defensively plus the Pacers bench doesn't have an answer to fill the gap. Defensive lapses really showed up in the final six games, so a return to the league-leading brand of defense the Pacers are capable of playing will be critical.

5. How does Frank Vogel impact the Pacers on game night?

Vogel is a master motivator on the far end of the positive spectrum, but has no patience for defensive breakdowns and will quickly show his disgust with a quick timeout, regardless of the score, if the defense isn't up to his expectations. Vogel has also taken advantage of Paul George's emergence to get him good shots coming out of timeouts.

6. Player that was on last year's team that you wish you could have back this season is...?

Darren Collison may not have wanted to stay around as the Pacers reserve point guard but I sure wish he was still available off the bench. D.J. Augustin has fluctuated between poor and adequate in the role throughout the regular season and Collison's quickness off the bench would help the Pacers in various point guard matchups. Plus, he seemed to play better in big games which would make him quite useful in the playoffs.

7. Who is most likely to scrap with Ivan Johnson?

The easy answer is Tyler Hansbrough since he is a magnet to physical play that extends past the whistle. Depending on how well he's playing and the level of yapping he's doing, Lance Stephenson lure Johnson into an enough-is-enough-young-fella scrap.

8. Expecting plenty of Pacer bias here, but how does this series end and why?

I want to say the Pacers in five but since the Philips Arena has been such a house of horrors for the Pacers, I'll say Pacers in six. To go along with a couple of heaping tablespoons of bias, I'm basing this positive outlook on defense. The Pacers are an extremely physical team and with more physical play generally allowed in the playoffs I'm assuming the league-leading defense will rise again after the late season swoon.

I also think the absence of Lou Williams and even more importantly, Zaza Pachulia will play a big factor. For whatever reason, Zaza has been a huge factor for the Hawks in wins over the Pacers. He's been able to neutralize Roy Hibbert and also allow Al Horford more room to kill the Pacers. Horford remains a key to the series with his ability to hit the mid-range shot. The Pacers were getting killed late in the season with Hibbert getting caught in no man's land on pick n pop plays with other bigs. The Hawks will certainly be ready to attack that weakness, but the Pacers are aware of the breakdowns, as well and should be able to counter.

This should be a far more entertaining series than those outside of Indy and Atlanta realize. Plenty of X-factors on both sides which includes the randomly fluctuating level of play both teams can play. Can't wait for Game 1 to tip!

Now, the flip side -- check out Indy Cornrows for the visitor's comments, but here is our end of the Q&A in its entirety.

HAWKS SIDE:

1. Summarize the Hawks season for Pacer fans who only witnessed the four games Indiana played them this season.

After the trades of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, the Hawks were very obviously entering a transition season in 2012-2013. Not a total rebuilding season, not with Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague still in the starting lineup, but with 10 players in the last season of their contracts, this was obviously going to a be a season which bridged the last era to a new one.

While most of us (and surprisingly the NBA experts) predicted a five or six seed for the Hawks with 44-47 wins, how they got there was a surprise. First, there was no deal for Josh Smith, also, a season ending injury to Louis Williams, signed to supplant the offensive gap left with Joe Johnson. Then the loss of key big man Zaza Pachulia for the year to a mysterious ailment which turned out to be an Achilles injury, forced more minutes for Ivan Johnson and rookie Mike Scott. These two guys have surprisingly responded with efficient productivity.

Kyle Korver has been more than just a 3-point specialist for the Hawks, Jeff Teague has taken yet another step up in his growth and Al Horford has filled into the team leader and offensive force he was becoming before his shoulder injury last season.

Since January 19th, which is when Lou Williams was lost for the season, Horford has averaged 19.8 ppg and 10.8 rpg while dishing 3 assists per game.

Also, with Johnson gone, the Hawks have finally ditched Iso-ball and had over 2000 assists for the first time since 1993-1994 -- the year Dominique Wilkins was traded to the Clippers. That's a long time ago.

2. How will we know if the Hawks are on their game?

You will know the Hawks are going to be tough if you see them moving with purpose on both ends of the floor. The team can be highly efficient, but this team relies on motion to make things happen offensively and to take care of things on the defensive end.

3. How will we know if they are off their game?

If Jeff Teague appears to be deferring, a lot, and doesn't attack -- If Josh Smith isn't attacking the rim -- If Indiana is getting into the lane early and often.

You will know the Hawks are going to be tough if you see them moving with purpose on both ends of the floor. -Jason Walker, Peachtree Hoops

4. Biggest key for the Hawks in this series will be......?

Teague's approach to the game. When he is in attack-mode, he makes the Hawks outside shooting very dangerous -- and it's his energy and movement that makes the rest of the offense move as well. Defensively, when he isn't carelessly taking chances and letting his man get in the lane, the efficiency goes up.

5. How does Larry Drew impact the Hawks on game night?

Coming out of timeouts, Drew has a knack for getting the Hawks into a good play that yields a real good look at the hoop. He doesn't get too high or too low, which promotes a sense of calm, even when things have gotten rough. This has helped the Hawks come back from double-digits 10 times this season, including a franchise best 27 points down against the Celtics in January.

6. Player that was on last year's team that you wish you could have back this season is...?

I would take Marvin Williams for this series, so he can match up with Paul George. As soon as the Hawks traded Williams, they traded away their only primary three who carries plus man-defense skills.

7. Who is most likely to scrap with Tyler Hansbrough?

Well, Ivan Johnson is an obvious answer in the absence of Zaza Pachulia, who is sadly out for the season. Ivan took out a backboard at a nearby practice court one of the times the Hawks came through Indiana this year.

8. Expecting plenty of Hawks bias here, but how does this series end and why?

These teams split the series this season, but the Hawks did not have the services of surprising Hawks X-Factor Devin Harris in either loss. The Hawks are 24-10 in games that Harris started, 21-6 when he plays more than 25 minutes and 20-8 when he scores 10+ points in a game. They are 4-0 when he reaches 20 points. Devin Harris, everybody!

So, according the the math, the Hawks should win in five as long as Harris plays 25 minutes a game. So I'll be conservative and say Hawks in six.

Bias aside, I believe these teams know each other very well and this should be an excellent series, even if nobody nationally wants to watch.

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