The NBA Playoffs get underway on Saturday and the Atlanta Hawks are a part of the festivities for the seventh straight season but what kind of chance do they have against the top-seeded Pacers? Our writers get you ready for the matchup:
1. Who is the single most important player if the Hawks are to be
successful in this series?
Brad Rowland - Jeff Teague. I have a feeling that I won't be alone in listing Teague as the team's most important in this series, but as Teague goes, the Hawks go. Even in the middle of Indiana's disastrous run to end the season, their defense is still playing at an elite level, and for the Hawks to score effectively, Teague must be aggressive in probing the middle, creating defensive movement and finding Atlanta's shooters. If he doesn't soundly outplay George Hill, the Hawks are in big trouble.
Josh Lane (Throw) - Jeff Teague is the most important player for the Hawks this series. If he can get going by getting in the lane and hitting his jumpers, then this should open things up for everyone else on the floor.
Kris Willis - Jeff Teague came into the season as the most important player on the Hawks' roster and it remains that way as they get set to open the playoffs. Atlanta's offensive game plan revolves around Teague's penetration off of the pick and roll and his play making abilities. If he's going well then there is a good chance that the Hawks are as well. Also don't sleep on his impact defensively. Atlanta needs Teague to be locked in defensively to keep pressure on a somewhat turnover prone George Hill.
2. What would it take to consider this playoff appearance a success?
BR - Success is always an interesting word, but for me, it is a positive series if the Hawks win 2 games. That seems borderline absurd in the NBA, but given the nature of a 1/8 match-up, it's a bit aggressive to suggest that winning the series is the only objective to measure. Losing the series in 5 games wouldn't be a disaster, frankly, and only a sweep would be a real disappointment.
JL - Honestly if this series goes 6 or 7 games then I see it as a moral victory for us. We don't really have a favorable match up at any position outside of the bench and the Hawks are just undermanned at a talent standpoint.
KW - The reality is the Hawks are the only below .500 team in the playoffs and are playing the team with the best record in the East. For me to be satisfied I want to see them compete at a high level for 48 minutes in at least four games. After that you just let the chips fall where they may.
3. What percentage odds do you give the good guys to win the series and advance?
BR - 15%. If you asked me this question about a month ago, my answer would have 5% or even lower, but with the way that Indiana has played, there is at least a glimmer of hope. Because the Pacers have serious trouble scoring, that lends itself to a series filled with close games (at least in theory), and with some late-game execution and a few breakout performances, I can squint and see the Hawks advancing.
JL - I see us maybe having a 40-45% chance of winning the series but alot of things would have to go right for us to win. If we can frustrate Hibbert, shoot light out like in our wins during the season, limit Paul George and David West and not get killed in rebounding, then I see us having a chance to win.
KW - 20%. Indiana's struggles and the subsequent media attention has them facing a lot more pressure than what is normal in an 1-8 matchup. The Hawks present enough matchup problems that they should be able to be competitive at the very least at home. The longer the series goes the more the pressure mounts on the Pacers.
4. What is your prediction for the series?
BR - Pacers in 6. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I actually think the Hawks steal one in Indiana and come home with a 1-1 split. After all, it isn't exactly a vaunted home court advantage for a team that finished in the middle of the pack from an attendance standpoint this season. Still, Atlanta would have to come home and defend home-court in back to back games after that, and while I think they'll get one, that will be the end. Indiana celebrates on the Philips Arena floor on May 1st.
JL - Pacers in 6: Now I really want the Hawks to win the series and shock the #1 seed to advance to the second round. But I just don't see the Hawks keeping their hot shooting streak alive through a 7 game series. If the Pacers can continue to shut down Paul Millsap and keep our perimeter guys in check, then I don't see this series going that far. Also as much of a Teague fan that I am, it will be hard for me to see the aggressive Jeff Teague that has recently found his outside shot to stay consistent.
KW - Pacers in 6: I don't think this Hawks team will be an easy out for Indiana despite the difference in their regular season records. However, consistency issues have plagued the Hawks for the entire season and they absolutely cannot afford an injury to any of their key players. Atlanta can make a series out of it but they would have to play near perfect to win the series.