The Atlanta Hawks open their first round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indiana. The Hawks and the Pacers split four regular season matchups with the Hawks taking the first two at Atlanta and Pacers taking both wins in Indianapolis.
This series will feature two conflicting styles and whichever team is able to control the tempo will likely have a leg up in winning the series. The Hawks want to push the basketball at every opportunity and get out into the open court. Because of that expect Larry Drew to open with a starting lineup that features both Jeff Teague and Devin Harris in the same backcourt.
Indiana was the top defensive team in the league in defensive rating so they are more than happy to slow things down where they can stack up their defense while taking advantage of their size.
Who else starts for the Hawks is unknown but Drew has a couple of different options. He could elect to go with Al Horford at center and Josh Smith at the power forward while starting either Kyle Korver or DeShawn Stevenson at the small forward position. Korver's long distance shooting could give the Hawks some room to penetrate on the offensive end but asking him to check Paul George for any length of time could be tough. Stevenson is a better defender than Korver but won't scare Indiana nearly as much on the offensive end. Plus by going small it forces Al Horford to matchup with Roy Hibbert at center and always brings the possibility of early foul trouble.
Drew's other option would seem to be starting a bigger lineup with Johan Petro at the center position and slide Horford and Smith to the forwards. That strengthens the bench with Korver and Stevenson but this scenario is where Atlanta misses Zaza Pachulia the most. Pachulia had two strong games in both victories over the Pacers and did not play in either of the losses. Petro brings the size to the lineup but the consistency hasn't always been there. There is a very real possibility that Drew starts out with the big lineup but the reality is that the Hawks will face a size disadvantage once they go to their bench.
Indiana no doubt will open the series as a heavy favorite but if the Hawks can steal a game on the road the Pacers will have to deal with a long 11 game losing streak at Philips Arena. That could put added pressure on a young team that is expected to win the series.
11/7 - Hawks 89, Pacers 86 - Recap
12/29 - Hawks 109, Pacers 100 - Recap
2/5 - Pacers 114, Hawks 103 - Recap
3/25, Pacers 100, Hawks 94 - Recap
Game Date/Time: Sunday, April 21, 1 p.m. ET
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
TV: TNT, SportSouth
Radio: 98.9 FM, Sirius XM
Odds: The Hawks are six point underdogs to the Pacers in Game 1.