(1) Indiana Pacers vs. (8) Atlanta Hawks
2014 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
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For the second consecutive season, the Indiana Pacers will meet the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. And for the second straight time, the series begins in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, beginning Saturday, April 19.
Both teams made changes to their roster during the summer of 2013 — also at times in the regular season — and, thus, feature different players in their normal, respective rotations heading into the postseason.
For Atlanta, it lost centerpiece Josh Smith, who signed a max contract to play with the Detroit Pistons last summer. The Hawks chose to let Smith walk, and the team still made the playoffs. Likely a good decision by ATL management.
Following the departure of Smith, the Hawks were forced to move on with other options. General manager Danny Ferry went out and signed former Jazz standout Paul Millsap. Millsap would essentially replace Smith in the starting lineup, and acted as a nice complementary piece alongside guard Jeff Teague and sharpshooter Kyle Korver.
Indiana made a flurry of moves between summer 2013 and February 2014. Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird acquired Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland and Donald Sloan over the summer. He then traded veteran Danny Granger in exchange for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen right at the February trade deadline, bringing the duo over from Philadelphia.
And here the teams stand today. Set to face off again in the first round of NBA playoff action.
Last year the Pacers were the three seed and the Hawks a six seed. This year, Indy managed to obtain the No. 1 seed in the conference, while Atlanta squeaked into the playoffs ahead of the New York Knicks.
The Indiana Pacers will, without question, be focused on slowing Atlanta’s starting five. Simply put, the Hawks don’t have any major threat off the bench. It comes down to defending Teague, Korver, Millsap and rookie Pero Antic.
Antic, in two games against the Pacers this season, looked unstoppable. At 31 years old and in his first NBA season, Antic stepped out and shot the three very well, while also finishing around the basket and in the post. He dominated Pacers’ center Roy Hibbert in both matchups.
Teague is set to battle fellow Indy native and good friend George Hill. It is always a fun time watching the two square off. Hill needs to look for his shot more in the playoffs, and that begins Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time in Indy.
Korver presents problems primarily behind the three-point line. He can be deadly, and is more than capable of winning a ballgame with his shooting stroke. Paul George typically gets the task of guarding Korver, and George must also force Korver to defend him on the other end of the floor.
Finally, it’ll be Millsap versus David West. Anything can happen here, but I expect West to step up in the playoffs and, if nothing else, match Millsap’s contributions and effort on both ends of the floor.
X-factor: Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. The 23-year-old is a triple-double threat and one stellar spring showing away from becoming a highly-coveted free agent this summer.
Series prediction: Last year, Indiana won this series in six games. This season, I like the Pacers over the Hawks, 4-1, in a best-of-seven series.
Tags: Indiana Pacers