(Sports Network) - They're long, strong and have a chip on their shoulder
entering the 2012-13 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Indiana Pacers, seeded third for a second straight year, will get the
first round started against the sixth-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Indiana split the
regular season series with Atlanta, 2-2, and the two teams have squared off
four times in the postseason.
The Pacers enjoyed one of their best seasons in almost 10 years and durability
was the key. Eight players competed in 70-plus games for a Pacers team that
captured the first Central Division title since 2003-04, when Indiana went
61-21 and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers, who have reached
the postseason in three straight seasons, faced a tough Detroit Pistons in the
conference finals then and hope to leave their own mark this time around.
"The postseason is intense. You have to be ready, every possession matters,
details matter. You can't make the same mistakes," Pacers center Roy Hibbert
said. "It's gonna be fun but at the same time a lot of blood, sweat and tears
go into it. I don't want to go home and be watching somebody else compete for
Indiana defeated Orlando in five games in last season's quarterfinals, but was
bounced from the competition in six games in the semis to eventual-champion
Miami. The Pacers, though, have that look and desire to make this year's run
last and will do it with All-Star Paul George, Hibbert, David West, George
Hill and a cast of reserves worthy of adulation.
Coach Frank Vogel deserves some credit, too. Even though the Pacers lost five
of their last six games to close out the regular season, Vogel will have his
team ready for the Hawks.
"I think that Frank is going to do a great job of having a master plan for
this team and all we have to do is go execute the plan and hopefully come out
in the series," Pacers reserve guard Gerald Green said.
Pacers reserve forward Tyler Hansbrough put his spin on how different the
playoffs are to the regular season.
"Playoffs are different. Playoff experience is rare," Hansbrough said. "It's
something you kinda have to be around and be involved in to kind of know what
it's like. It takes a while to get adjusted. Playoff games are very different
than a regular season game; the atmosphere, the intensity, everything, the
For the Pacers' sake, adjusting to the glamour that is the NBA playoffs must
come sooner rather than later.
The Hawks know they will be going up against a Pacers team that finished
second in opponents' scoring at 90.7 ppg. The Hawks averaged 98.0 ppg on
offense and are in the postseason for a sixth straight year.
Atlanta lost in six games to the Boston Celtics in last year's conference
quarterfinals and, like Indiana, closed out the regular season on a sour note,
losing five of seven games. Luckily for the Hawks, the Eastern Conference was
so bad they were able to clinch a playoff berth.
Former Hawks great Dominique Wilkins talked about Atlanta's matchup.
"Among being healthy, you want to go into Indiana with a physical attitude
because they're (Pacers) going to play you very physical," Wilkins said. "You
gotta win possessions, you gotta take care of the ball. You can't turn the
ball over against a team like this and you have to have great ball movement."
Wilkins feels the Hawks have a "major advantage" up front with the guard
position, in particular Jeff Teague. Teague is a quick player who finished
third on the team in scoring with 14.6 ppg and first with 7.2 assists. But
most of the scoring load will rest upon the broad shoulders of Josh Smith and
Al Horford. Rumored to be dealt at the trade deadline, Smith stuck around and
scored a team-high 17.5 ppg.
Horford was second with 17.4 ppg and first in rebounds (10.2 rpg). Horford
matches up well with Hibbert, who said he will try to move around more outside
of the paint because of how hard the Hawks play down low.
BACKCOURT: Teague registered 10 20-point/10-assist games this season and is
one of three Atlanta players to have that many in a campaign, joining Pete
Maravich and Eddie Johnson. Teague dished out 579 assists in 2012-13, so it's
quite evident he will be distributing the ball to his teammates often. He is
also deadly from the free-throw line and made 88.1 percent of his foul shots
this season. Teague is joined in the backcourt by Devin Harris, a dual threat
at both guard positions. Harris' stock has dropped in recent years, but he can
still handle the pressure. He posted 9.9 points, 3.4 assists, 2.0 rebounds
and 1.1 steals, and the Hawks are 24-10 when he starts. As for Indiana, Hill
will run the point and, unlike Teague, has more weapons to feed. Hill was
third on the Pacers with 14.2 ppg. Lance Stephenson is the other guard and
doesn't bring much scoring wise.
FRONTCOURT: The frontcourt is where this playoff series will be won. George,
Hibbert and West are all rangy players, while Hibbert and West bring the size
and bulk. Hibbert transformed himself into one of the top centers in the East
and averaged 11.9 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds. Hibbert grabbed 10 or
more boards eight times in his last 11 games of the regular season. The only
flaw for Hibbert is that he will sit against pick-and-roll teams due to the
lack of speed. Hibbert, though, is a monster on the offensive glass. George
was Indiana's lone All-Star and finished with career highs in points (17.4),
rebounds (7.6) and assists (4.1). West is the veteran of the bunch and ended
the season on a hot streak, scoring 12-plus points in seven straight. The
Pacers are too big for Atlanta's frontcourt of Horford, Smith and Kyle Korver.
Korver sometimes will sit in favor of Johan Petro or Anthony Tolliver, but his
3-point prowess comes in handy. Korver finished the regular season with a
streak of 73 consecutive games with at least one made 3-pointer. Smith is a
jack of all trades both offensively and defensively, while Horford gives the
Hawks their best option inside.
BENCH: Had first-year Hawk Lou Williams stayed healthy (torn knee ligament),
he would have improved the team's chances in winning this series. However,
that will not be the case when Petro, DeShawn Stevenson, Ivan Johnson and
defensive stopper Dahntay Jones are your top reserves. Rookies John Jenkins
and Mike Scott each had 20 points off the bench earlier this month at San
Antonio. Not that Indiana's reserves are much better, they still contribute
more than Atlanta's. Starter Danny Granger was coming off the bench after knee
surgery, but has since been shut down for the season. That hurts. But
Hansbrough, Green and defensive stalwart Sam Young fill in nicely for Indy.
COACHING: Hawks coach Larry Drew has guided his team to the playoffs in his
three years at the helm. The Hawks have overcome injuries at various times in
a season under Drew, whose perseverance and patience with players seems to pay
off when it counts. Drew's team fell two games shy of the East finals a year
ago and he hopes to improve an 8-10 record in the postseason with Atlanta.
Vogel doesn't have as much head coaching experience as Drew, but does have the
better team in this playoff matchup. The players are confident in Vogel's
system and he took over for Jim O'Brien, guiding the Pacers to a 20-18 record
and their first playoff berth in four seasons two years ago.
PREDICTION: Hibbert said blood, sweat and tears are needed in the playoffs and
plenty of it will be spilled in this series. Maybe not so much blood, but it
will be pumping furiously in the six games it will take Indiana to move on.
You have to appreciate Indiana's size and strength in this one. To be
courteous toward the Hawks, Smith and Horford will show their value and make
it a two-man show for Atlanta. Even if the Hawks would advance, which they
won't, they will bumped out of the semis. Indiana, however, has a real shot at
reaching and winning the conference finals.
SPORTS NETWORK PREDICTION: PACERS in 6
The Sports Network