The Indiana Pacers aren’t the sexiest team that made the 2013 NBA playoffs, but with a strong defensive mindset and timely scoring, there is little doubt that the storied franchise could make a serious postseason splash.
Which team walks away victorious in this first-round series?
Now the team wants more.
With the chance to not only advance to the next round, but build momentum for a shockingly-deep playoff push, look for the Pacers to make this series one of the most exciting we see during the 2013 NBA postseason.
Full Schedule (via NBA.com)
Game 1: Atlanta at Indiana - Sunday, April 21 at 1 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 2: Atlanta at Indiana - Wednesday, Apr 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV
Game 3: Indiana at Atlanta - Saturday, Apr 27 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Game 4: Indiana at Atlanta - Monday, Apr 29 at (Time to Be Determined) on TBD
Game 5*: Atlanta at Indiana - Wednesday, May 1 at (Time to Be Determined) on TBD
Game 6*: Indiana at Atlanta - Friday, May 3 at (Time to Be Determined) on TBD
Game 7*: Atlanta at Indiana - Sunday, May 5 at (Time to Be Determined) on TBD
Regular Season Overview
Record: 49-32, First in Central Division
Points Leader: Paul George, 17.4
Rebounds Leader: Roy Hibbert, 8.3
Assists Leader: George Hill, 4.7
First-Round Series vs. Atlanta Hawks
Biggest Strength: Rebounding
The Indiana Pacers are flat-out monsters on the glass, collecting a league-best 45.9 rebounds per game and will continue to dominate against an Atlanta Hawks team that ranked 23rd in the very same category.
Rebounding is all about effort, and while the Hawks have the bigger-name talent on their roster, the boys from Indiana are harder workers at both ends of the floor; the Pacers won’t be stopped on the glass in Round 1.
Despite not one player on the Indiana roster averaging over 10 rebounds per game, the fact that three players—Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George—each average seven or more per game speaks to the unselfishness of this team.
Biggest Weakness: Half-Court Offense
The best defenses in the NBA allow that style of play to open up offensive chances, but when it doesn’t, the Pacers are forced to move into their half-court offensive sets.
That’s where the team struggles most.
With top offensive player Danny Granger out for the season with knee surgery, Indiana has struggled at times to find consistent scoring from any one player.
George Hill has been a fine point guard, but as more of a natural shooting guard, the offense can find itself stalling and not moving the ball efficiently enough. That’s how the Pacers finished the season ranked 28th overall with just 20.3 assists per game.
There are still bona fide scorers on the team—George and West average 17 points per game a piece—but the fact that only two other players are in double digits is a bad sign for any hopes of finding much offensive rhythm this postseason.
Best Matchup: Stopping Atlanta’s Stars
As great as the Atlanta Hawk’s top stars have been this season, when forward Josh Smith and center Al Horford square off against the Pacers, the duo will face their toughest defensive test of the year.
Smith and Horford are not only the team’s top scorers (17.5 and 17.4 points per game respectively), the pair are also the team’s top rebounders. With so much of the Hawks’ focus on the duo, the Pacers will throw everything they have at their opponents.
Instead of Atlanta having the typical advantage at the positions, defensive nightmares David West and Paul George will be tasked with shutting down Smith, while Horford will be forced to contend with 7’2” center Roy Hibbert making life in the low post tough.
Expect the increased focus on the Hawks’ top stars to rattle them and allow Indiana a chance to capitalize with a decisive first-round series win.
Worst Matchup: Atlanta’s Bench
The injury to Danny Granger has really hurt the length of the Pacers’ bench, and if Atlanta has a distinct advantage anywhere, it’s with the team’s depth.
The Hawks boast the better bench—talented players like Shelvin Mack and DeShawn Stevenson—and Indiana will be at a disadvantage when their top stars need to take a seat.
Besides forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Gerald Green, the Pacers lack any real game-changing abilities off the bench, and that could be the ultimate undoing of the team’s season if someone unexpected doesn’t step up.
Key Player: Paul George, SF
The biggest key for Indiana to walk out of the first round with a series victory will be the success of small forward Paul George. With Granger out, George has become the team’s top offensive player and the man that will be taking the key shots.
As talented as George is at both ends of the court—he is an excellent defender as well—it will be his matchup with Josh Smith all series that will be the main focus of this battle.
Not only does the Pacers’ star have to defend Atlanta’s top player at times, Smith will likely be tasked to shut George down defensively as well. This one-on-one battle could get chippy.
Smith is one of the best defenders in the NBA, but if Indiana wants to pull out the series win and advance to the next round of the playoffs, George must find open shots and knock them down when they are there.
The Pacers will play as well or as poorly as George does leading them.
Prediction: Indiana Wins Series 4-2
While the Atlanta Hawks have a strong team that matches up well against the Pacers, the quality of talent on Indiana’s roster and the willingness from every player to commit in the defensive zone will be the difference in this first-round playoff matchup.
The Pacers have lived on their timely scoring and rebounding all season, and with a trip to the second round on the line, Indiana and its top players will leave even more effort on the court than the team is already known to give.
Atlanta will sneak out a pair of close wins, but Indiana is too talented to lose the entire series and will advance to the second round.