Matchup: (1) Indiana Pacers vs Atlanta Hawks (8)
Regular Season Series: 2-2, split
Key Matchup: Roy Hibbert vs Paul Millsap. Even though, on paper, Millsap and Hibbert didn’t really guard each other much in the regular season, in the playoffs you usually see the best players (in this case big men) go against each other with a shortened rotation. In other words, the best players will see the floor more than they did in the regular season, usually. Per NBA Stats, when Hibbert was guarded by Millsap he only finished 10 percent of the time. And vice versa, Millsap didn’t fare much better, as he only shot 1 for 14 while guarded by Hibbert during the regular season. Granted, they’re small sample sizes but it’s likely that we could see an extended version of this matchup in the first round.
The Skinny: This is the type of series that the Pacers should sweep. The Hawks, as the only team in the playoffs under .500, shouldn’t even be in this situation. However, due to a horrendous season for the Eastern Conference, they are. If the Hawks win this series, or even make it into a series, it’s going to be more about what the Pacers didn’t do than what the Hawks did do.
Atlanta will win if: The March and April Pacers show up.
Indiana will win if: They return to their old form, and if Roy Hibbert reemerges from his latter portion of the regular season hibernation. Indiana could probably get away with their recent turnover problems in this series, but they won’t get much further if they don’t fix such elementary issues. This series shouldn’t be that entertaining, but it sure will be telling.
Prediction: Indiana in five. Because you know the Pacers are going to find a way to blow one of these games.