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Viewing Information: Game 1: Saturday, April 19, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Regular Season Series: Split, 2-2
X-Factor: Indiana's Chemistry
This is a tough one.
There are probably a dozen keys that might swing this series one way or the other, and the Pacers' high-velocity free fall after the All-Star break makes them extremely tough to predict.
It's key to mention the difficult matchups the Hawks present for Indiana and Roy Hibbert, specifically. The big man was the league's best defensive player through the first 50 games of the season, but fatigue and a complete offensive breakdown resulted in a second-half benching against the Hawks on April 6.
If Pero Antic's perimeter game drags Hibbert away from the rim and exploits his already tired legs, the Hawks could notch an upset.
That's a significant strategic point to watch, and it could have a huge impact on the series. But it's just one of many smaller matchup-related quirks that arise in any postseason tilt.
The most important, potentially series-altering wild card in this matchup is Indiana's chemistry.
Lance Stephenson is unpredictable, Paul George can't figure out how to get into the lane and George Hill seems to have lost all confidence in his game. As a result, there have been plenty of upturned palms, slumped shoulders and media sniping from all corners in Indy.
Hibbert said there were "selfish dudes" in the Pacers' locker room back in March, per David Aldridge of NBA.com, and Indiana's across-the-board failure to play together as an offensive unit supports that analysis.
If the Pacers can put their slide—and the attendant interpersonal strife it caused—behind them, this could be a cakewalk. Remember, the Hawks are a sub-.500 team playing in a comically weak Eastern conference. Back in early February, the notion of Atlanta winning a single game against Indiana would have been laughable.
Now, the Pacers' fragile chemistry makes almost any outcome seem possible.
In the end, Indiana's first 50 games of utter dominance count for more than their last 32 of substandard play. Maybe the Pacers aren't the league-stomping defensive juggernaut they appeared to be earlier this year, but they're also not as bad as they've played recently.
Atlanta doesn't have the talent to compete with Indiana, and even if the Pacers are a bit vulnerable, they've got the postseason experience and defensive chops to make quick work of the Hawks.
Prediction: Pacers in five.