The 2013 NBA Playoffs will kick off on Saturday, April 20, wasting little time getting into the postseason as the regular season just ended on Wednesday. The matchups between the high-profile teams, particularly in the Western Conference, are set to steal the show in the first round. However, one series in the Eastern Conference that could be quite intriguing pits the third seeded Indiana Pacers against the sixth seeded Atlanta Hawks.
One of the primary reasons that this series should be interesting is the fact that both of these teams didn’t play particularly well down the stretch of the regular season. The Hawks looked like they were, in a way, tanking so that they could grab the six-seed while the Pacers often struggled offensively over the last few weeks of the season.
Looking at how these teams compare to one another, it’s pretty clear that this is going to be a tight series. The Hawks have a slight advantage offensively, averaging 102.7 points per 100 possessions compared to Indiana’s 101.6 points per 100 possessions. However, the Pacers are the best defensive team in the league, holding opponents to just 96.6 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile the Hawks are a slightly above average defensive team, allowing 101.8 points per 100 possessions.
Personnel-wise, each team has advantages at different places on the floor. Though George Hill has had a solid year for the Pacers, Jeff Teague has the advantage in that matchup. Lance Stephenson’s defense and Kyle Korver’s offense seem to nullify each other and Paul George should be able to dominate the weak small forward platoon of the Hawks.
The best matchups between these two teams are in their frontcourts, though. Josh Smith may be more gifted than David West, but West has the advantage in consistency and on-court savvy, which gives him a slight advantage over Smith. Al Horford is probably the best player in this series, but he’s going up against Roy Hibbert, who is an elite interior defender and has a distinct size advantage over Horford. Horford will still be able to be effective, but not as effective as he has been for most of this season.
Ultimately, though, the key to this series comes to the depth of each team’s frontcourt. The Pacers have Hibbert and West obviously, but they also bring in high-energy tough guys in Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi off the bench. Meanwhile, the Hawks play undersized to begin with by starting Horford and Smith. Then, after the injury to Zaza Pachulia, the Hawks have to bring in Ivan Johnson and even Johan Petro off the bench.
The depth of the Pacers frontcourt should prove to be the deciding factor in this series. Their advantage there gives them an advantage in the rebounding department. Considering that this series is probably going to feature a lot of slower paced games, rebounding is going to be huge. The Hawks will definitely pick up a couple of wins in the series, but the Pacers should be able to prevail.