The Heat are two-time defending NBA Champions and many consider them the favorite simply because they have almost all of their players back from the past two seasons. And well, you get the benefit of the doubt until you are knocked off the top of the hill.
The Pacers have also been considered as the team with the best chance to knock the Heat off of their throne and helped their cause by winning the the No. 1 seed with a 56-26 mark. The Pacers have pretty much been built to beat the Heat by playing a more deliberate style to keep Miami from getting out and running.
And yes, it's still a high probability that we will see a Pacers-Heat matchup in the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year. But it's not just a mere formality that they have to face two opponents first.
So, yes, first things first.
The Pacers play the Hawks, as pretty much all of you know. While Atlanta finished at just 38-44 in the regular season, it did win seven of its last 11 games.
|The Pacers need to control Hawks guard Jeff Teague in this playoff series.|
However, Hawks center Pero Antic loves to float around on the outside on offense, pulling Hibbert out of the lane. So, that means other players have to help out in the middle, which then leaves some of the Hawks sharpshooters open from 3-point land. And consider this, the Hawks had nine players hit 56 or more 3-pointers this season.
Those bombers were led by Kyle Korver who shot an NBA best 47 percent from long range and while hitting 185 3-pointers. He was followed by DeMarre Carroll at 97 3-pointers made, guard Lou Williams with 79, forward Paul Millsap with 76, Teague with 74, power forward Mike Scott and reserve point guard Shelvin Mack each with 62 and Antic and Cartier Martin each with 56.
So, yes, the Hawks aren't afraid to launch from downtown, but here's the good news. Aside from Korver, they aren't exactly lethal from the outside. Their next two best shooters from there are Martin at 38 percent and Carroll at 36 percent.
But what having all of these shooters (even if they are not necessarily all makers) on the court, is that it forces the defense to spread itself out and allow the talented Millsap to go one-on-one with his variety of inside moves.
So, yes, it's true the Hawks are a threat from the outside and yes, it's true they are all capable of being hot for a game or two. But in the playoffs, the better defensive team, which the Pacers are, generally figure out a way to effectively defend an opponent, even if it takes the first part of the first game to get the exact defensive system for that opponent figured out.
Part of the good news for the Pacers is that the Hawks are not exactly a defensive stalwart type of team. They allowed 101.5 points per game during the regular season good for 15th in the league. They also allowed opponents to shoot 46.5 percent from the field, which was 21st in the league and they were ranked 24th in the league in overall rebounding.
So, the big "if" here, will be for the Pacers to run their offense in a normal fashion because the Hawks have shown they have difficulty guarding a team for the full 24 seconds. Which brings us to the next point here: It's vital that the Pacers actually do make the right plays on offense because if they are lulled into a one-on-one type of game, it can put the defense a bad position to get back and cover those outside shooters, mainly Korver.
In games the Pacers shot 50 percent or better during the regular season, they were 14-1, with that one loss coming in a road loss to Phoenix. To shoot 50 percent from the field in the playoffs is difficult, but the main thing here will be to make the right passes on offense, as opposed to going one-on-one regularly, so the defense will not be put in a bad position.
Are there going to be some situations where a one-on-one play will be necessary, or even needed? Well, yes, that's going to happen from time-to-time in the NBA playoffs. It just can't be an almost every possession occurrence.
But in the end, the Pacers will have to lean on their defense. They were No. 1 in the league in field goal percentage allowed at 42 percent, No. 1 in defensive rebounding, No. 2 in points allowed per game at 92.3 and No. 4 in 3-point percentage allowed at 34.5 percent.
That should be the difference in this series with the Pacers winning by a 4-2 margin, just like they did last year against Atlanta.