By Kevin Major @KevinMajor_Rant on April 15, 2014
The Indiana Pacers announced early in the season that their goal was to earn the top seed in the East. Despite their underwhelming play since the All-Star break, Indiana accomplished their goal and will have homecourt advantage for at least the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Here are five things the Pacers must do to beat their first-round opponent, the Atlanta Hawks.
Atlanta makes an average of 9.4 threes per game, tied for second most in the NBA. Many of these three-pointers are made by Kyle Korver, who is a 47.2 percent shooter from deep. To win the series, Indiana will need to limit the number of quality three-point looks Atlanta gets. Indiana allows just 6.6 made threes per game, third fewest in the NBA. If they can hold the Hawks to around seven three-pointers made per game, they will win the series.
For the Hawks to have a realistic shot at upsetting the Pacers, they will need to win one of the first two games in Indiana. Stealing one of these games will be very difficult, as Indiana has the best homecourt record in the NBA. The Pacers have lost just six games at home all season and statistically, they increase their scoring, rebounding and assist averages when playing in Indiana. If the they continue dominating at home, they will advance.
Jeff Teague is Atlanta's most important player in the series. Teague is having the best season of his five-year career, averaging 16.6 points and 6.7 assists per game. He is most effective when he can penetrate and find open teammates. Indiana will try to keep Teague out of the lane by defending him with George Hill and Paul George. Both defenders are quick and have great length, two traits which should limit Teague's ability to drive.
The Pacers have a deep frontcourt rotation with excellent size. This unit should be able to own the glass against a Hawks team that is ranked 28th in total rebounding. Due to injuries, Atlanta will likely start the undersized Paul Millsap and Elton Brand at the four and five against the Pacers. Indiana should be able to take advantage of Atlanta's lack of size and generate tons of second-chance scoring opportunities.
Roy Hibbert had a great start to the season, making the All-Star team and establishing himself as the best defensive big man in the game. Since the All-Star break, Hibbert has looked lost on the court, averaging just 9.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. The Pacers should use the first-round as a way to get Hibbert's confidence up. If Hibbert is able to recapture what has been missing from his game, the Pacers have a chance to make a deep run.
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