(In keeping with tradition, the Peachtree Hoops writing staff offer up our predictions for the Hawks and the Pacers for your entertainment. Let us know in the comments who you think got it right and what your prediction.)
Prediction: Pacers in six games
Through my years of watching Atlanta Hawks basketball I have learned one thing, that this team is incredibly unpredictable. But before I go and give my predictions, let me go through a couple things that I have learned from watching these 2 teams play this season. We know that the Hawks are terrible at defending PnP and PnR situations and from what I have seen, the Pacers love to run this in the half-court alot with Paul George and David West. These two players terrorize this team and if we want to have any chance we have to keep them in check. Hibbert hasn't caused us much trouble this season so I hope that whatever we were doing to make him ineffective continues to happen. Oh yes and the Pacers are a half-court team meaning if we play at their pace more than likely we will be knocked from the first round.
Now for the Hawks we have to push the pace at any opportunity. With this let me point out my x-factor #1: the point guard battle. In my mind, Devin and Jeff are the better point guards in this series and Jeff is the best one overall. If they push the pace and are attacking then I can't imagine anyone on the Pacers roster being able to slow them down. Also, if those two keep running then they will easily be able to wear down Indiana's interior defense and hopefully keep Hibbert out of the paint or on the sideline looking to recover from all of the times he is running up and down the floor. Now I do understand that against Indiania Jeff hasn't always played the best but I'm hoping that somewhere within this series Jeff gets that extra kick to play well not only in front of the fans in Phillips but also to those at his home in Indiana. I guess the same could go with Shelvin Mack. My second x-factor and probably the one the decides the series is which Josh Smith will we get. When not on George, Josh will be up against David West a player who is an excellent jump shooter and has killed us in the past. It all comes down to if Josh is going to try to imitate this and decide that he thinks he is also one of the leagues best shooting bigs. In my eyes Josh shooting a jumper as about as bad as a turnover. I will give him credit though, recently he has been posting up more and attacking the basket with only attempting maybe three jumpers a game. But if we get more than five from him, we are done. The defense will be there for him but also we have to hope that he remains calm and plays smart with his passing.
So if everything lines up and we do not commit and dumb turnovers, Atlanta can win this series. Experience plays a large factor and we have been here before where as Indiana has not. Sadly though I do not think that this team can play at this level where everyone is locked in so I'm going to go Pacers in six. I would not be surprised if we win the series but after watching a game where we gave a no name on their team a season high I can't expect this team to play hard for an entire series. Then again this is the most unpredictable team in the NBA so you never know but if I had money on this Pacers in six.
Prediction: Hawks in seven.
Neither team has been playing particularly well of late and whichever can regain good form and consistency first has the advantage. The key to me is the Hawks back court. Playing Teague and Harris together I think we have the speed to push the pace of the game in order to minimize Indiana's strength of half court defense. If forced to make offensive output the Pacers will struggle as they are poor shooting team. In spite of being without Zaza Pachulia, I think the front lines neutralize each other in terms of contribution. They have greater depth in the up front, so Larry Drew needs to adapt to playoff timing (time outs, commercials, etc.) to maximize the minutes of our starters and still keep them competitive if not fresh. They also have greater length and bulk, but we counter that with better athleticism.
In my opinion the big risk for the Hawks to falter is actually Larry Drew and his rotations. Last playoffs it wasn't until we were firmly behind the eight ball before he adjusted by shortening the bench. In the latter part of the season we saw too often that late in the 3rd and early in the 4th we'd often field a lineup with not enough offense in order to rest the starters. He tried to split Josh and Al so that one was out there with that lineup in the 3rd and the other the 4th, but it just doesn't work. With only one of the bigs and no Lou Williams these lineups routinely floundered against NBA level defensive pressure. Larry Drew has to find a way to minimize or eliminate these stretches of toothless offensive to help close out games. The alternative is a stretch of time in every game in which no lead is safe, big holes can be dug, and momentum takes up residence on the Pacers bench.
The other key risk area is SF. We don't match up with Paul George well. If we go big with Josh on him we essentially handicap our offense. If we try to cover him with Kyle he has the potential to blow up on us. My suggestion here is to mix it up during the games with stretches of Josh and Kyle, but also some time with Deshawn or Dahntay as well (when either Harris or Teague is resting). Paul George will likely get his points in the series, but if the Hawks play him right he'll get it off a poor shooting percentage. However, if gets hot especially from three-point land, the Hawks will struggle to keep up. When this happens you get stuck playing against their half court defense instead of running and we don't want that. I think the Hawks figure these things out just enough to scrape by in seven.
Prediction: Pacers in six
It will be interesting to see if Larry Drew can make the impactful in-game adjustments that were lacking during last year's playoffs and whether his most talented (but inexperienced) backups in J. Jenkins and I. Johnson will be given opportunities early and often. That said, it's been a nice season for the Hawks considering everything, but short of consistent superstar level play from Josh Smith - the Pacers have too much defense and more recently, enough offense (and home court advantage) to keep the Hawks from any illusion that they can make it to the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs. The effect of not having any consistency in lineups, roles, and play normally revels itself against above average to elite level teams. We split the series, but our wins were at home and with a very different team in 2012 than we have now in 2013, and so, it's Pacers in six.
Prediction: Hawks in six
A lot of emotion here, and it should be a great series, even if nobody wants to watch it. Horford v. Hibbert, Josh Smith v. David West. Paul George against a roster full of wings that will be free agents very soon.
These teams split the series this year, but the Hawks lost both games against the Pacers without surprise X-Factor, Devin Harris!
Did I mention Hawks in six?!
Prediction: Hawks in six
I think the Pacers' recent struggles will roll over early on and allow the Hawks to steal one of the first two games in Indiana and the Hawks will win the three here in Atlanta. Al Horford and Jeff Teague will each have a big series and the two will breakdown the Pacers' defense with the pick-and-pop. In last year's postseason, Chris Bosh's return turned the series around for the Heat who were able to use his mid-range shooting ability to pull Hibbert out and create driving lanes. I think the Hawks will go with that formula and take advantage of Horford's shooting to do the same. I also don't think Paul George is ready to carry the load in the postseason as the main guy yet, and will have some struggles on the road.
Prediction: Hawks in seven
Other than the Miami Heat I didn't really feel like there was a matchup in the East that the Atlanta Hawks weren't capable of matching up against. With that said, the Pacers weren't my first choice as an opponent in the first-round. Despite their recent struggles I am confident that the Hawks have the answer to Indiana's league best defense which is superior ball movement and pushing the ball out in transition. I expect a big series from Al Horford but the play of Jeff Teague and Devin Harris will be the difference. It won't be easy as I see the Hawks winning one of the first two games only to drop a game at Philips Arena simply because they are the Hawks. However, they will figure out a way to get it done in Game 7 and move on to the second round.