Complete Guide to Atlanta Hawks' Postseason

Joe WirthContributor IIIApril 20, 2013

Complete Guide to Atlanta Hawks' Postseason

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    After the results of Wednesday's play, it's official: The Atlanta Hawks will face off with the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

    The series will begin this Sunday in Indianapolis at 1 p.m ET. The game can seen on TNT.

    Although the Pacers reached the Eastern Conference Semis last year, the Hawks had success against them this season. The teams split their four matchups 2-2, with each team winning their respective home games.

    The Hawks will no doubt have their worked cut out for them against a quality opponent like Indiana, but if it can step up on the defensive end, Atlanta poses a real threat.

How They Got Here

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    The inconsistency of the Hawks was showcased throughout the season. Through some stretches, Atlanta looked like it could beat any team in the league. But during other times, the team played down to its competition. This up-and-down play has been maddening to the Hawks' fans all season.

    The Atlanta Hawks started out the 2012-13 season in good shape. They began the season playing good basketball, recording a 19-10 record through the first two months of the season.

    The next stretch of the season, however, was a different story. From Jan. 4 through Feb. 8, the Hawks went 7-12, and their mindset went from trying to get a top seed in the Eastern Conference to simply trying to solidify a playoff spot.

    After that skid, Atlanta righted the ship somewhat by winning six of its next seven games. After this mini hot streak, however, the Hawks returned to their inconsistent ways and lost six of their next seven games.

    The Hawks went 10-8 for the remainder of the season. At times, they played well. Atlanta had strong wins over the Lakers and Nets, and it was very competitive on the road against the Spurs.

    As solid as those performances were, Atlanta also had games that left fans scratching their heads. In their last 18 games, the Hawks suffered double-digit home losses to non-playoff teams like DallasPortlandToronto and the 76ers" href="http://bleacherreport.com/philadelphia-76ers" target="_blank">76ers.

1st-Round Opponent: Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers finished with a 49-32 record and won the Central Division.

    After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last year, many feel the Pacers have the best chance of dethroning the heat in the Eastern Conference.

    Indiana is a team who is bred to win in the playoffs. It might not have the most prolific offense, but what it lacks in scoring, it more than makes up for on the defensive end.

    The Pacers were ranked No. 2 in the NBA in points allowed per game with an average of 90.7.

    With the likes of Roy Hibbert, David West, Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George in the frontcourt, the Pacers are the most formidable rebounding team in the NBA. They average the most rebounds per game with 45.9

    The Pacers present a challenge to every team they face, but their stingy defense will be tested by Atlanta's high-flying offense.

Backcourt Matchups

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    Because the pace of the game will be crucial, the backcourt will be key in this series for both teams.

    If the Hawks can push the tempo and get the Pacers playing fast, they will have a significant advantage. If, however, the flow of the game is more controlled and the offenses are relegated to running more half-court sets, Indiana has the advantage.

    For the Hawks, Jeff Teague is in charge of getting the offense started. He had success against the Pacers during the regular season. Teague averaged 16 points per game and 5.2 assists per game against Indiana this season.

    If the Hawks are going to outperform the Pacers' guard play, they are going to need production from Devin Harris. The oft-injured veteran only played in one game against the Pacers this season, and his minutes were limited.

    Over a seven-game series, conserving minutes is critical. Teague cannot carry the point guard duties by himself, and when he is on the bench, Harris has to step up and assure there is not a drop-off.

    For the Pacers, their floor general is George Hill. Hill brings a very similar skill set to the position like Teague. Both guards have the ability to score. With both averaging over 45 percent shooting from the floor, they are very efficient shooters.

    Hill averages 14.2 points per game, 4.7 assists per game and 3.7 rebounds per game. The other starting member of Indiana's backcourt is Lance Stephenson.

    Although Stephenson is averaging less than 10 points per game for the season, his offensive production has been up as the season has winded down. He is averaging 13.2 points per game since March 27, and he will be a factor Atlanta must contend with.

Frontcourt Matchups

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    The critical matchup will be between Al Horford and the Pacers' frontcourt. Between Roy Hibbert and David West, Indiana has bodies down low to make life difficult for Horford.

    The Hawks have quality scorers on the perimeter like Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, but Horford is the engine who makes the offense run.

    Indiana's size hurts Horford's productivity. He averages three less rebounds per game against the Pacers than his season average, and he also struggles on defense. David West averages four more points per game against Atlanta compared to his season average.

    Most teams have one big guy who Horford would have to account for. With Indiana, however, it has tremendous depth in the frontcourt. Look for that depth to wear down Horford as the series progresses.

    Atlanta's success in this series will be predicated on the production of Horford.

Series Schedule

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    Game 1 - 1 p.m. ET Sun., April 21, TNT

     

    Game 2 - 7:30 p.m. ET Wed., April 24, NBA TV

     

    Game 3 - 7 p.m. ET Sat., April 27, ESPN

     

    Game 4 - TBD Mon. April 29, TBD

     

    Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD Wed., May 1, TBD

     

    Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD Fri., May 3, TBD

     

    Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD Sun., May 5, TBD

Prediction

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    Defense wins in the playoffs, and the Hawks simply have not demonstrated enough consistency on the defensive end throughout the season to inspire the confidence that they could just turn on a switch come playoff time.

    Atlanta has the advantage on offense, so look for it to get hot and win a couple of games in the series. The thing about hot shooting, however, is that it is not sustainable over a seven-game series.

    If the Hawks are not hitting their shots, they will not have the ability to stop Indiana.

    Expect the Pacers to win the series in six games.