Atlanta did not take the dramatic step back that many prognosticators predicted after the offseason trade of star guard Joe Johnson. Josh Smith stepped into the role of team star in continued to be an all-around scorer, defender, and shot blocker. Jeff Teague had an inconsistent season at the point however he did have moments of brilliance. Kyle Korver did his best at replacing Johnson in the lineup and responded with a career season. He is a tremendous 3 point shooter and has improved his perimeter defense and passing skills. Smith is not an interior player so the team will struggle in a slower paced game as they have no interior presence.
Indiana looked like the 2nd best team in the East for a good portion of the season, however they tailed off as the season wore down. Their best player is Paul George and it is yet to be determined if he can make produce under the pressure of an NBA playoff series. He is a multi-dimensional player who can score in a variety of ways. He is also a threat on the defensive end as his uses his length and anticipation skills to get into passing lanes or effect shots. Roy Hibbert did not have the statistical season that many expected however his tremendous size and soft touch around the basket make him a tough cover for the Atlanta front line. He is one of a few traditional centers playing in the playoffs and he will be expected to provide an interior presence for the Pacers. Very quietly, David West had an all-star season and was probably the most consistent player throughout the year.
This is a tough series to call because there is no way of predicting which team will show up. The Hawks hovered a few games over 500 for most of the season. They are an overall strong defensive team, however they certainly aren’t going to be able to win games in the 80’s. Indiana is a much deeper team and have the ability to defend as well as put points on the board, however they have looked awful during several stretches during the regular season and there is no way to tell how they will react to the pressure of the playoffs. The Hawks chances will likely come down to the play of Smith. He will needs to surpass his regular season scoring average of 17 points per game as well as provide solid defense on West for his team to have a chance. He needs to attack the basket at every opportunity and do his best to give fouls to a much bigger Indiana front line. Much like Atlanta the fate of the Pacers will likely be decided by their best player in George. He will have to stay active an aggressive while not falling in love with the 3 point shot.
This series should feature several close games that will likely be low scoring. Both teams are going to need big performances from their stars. In the end it will be the depth of the Pacers that ultimately puts them on top.
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