The Indiana Pacers are headed toward a first-round playoff matchup with the Atlanta Hawks. At least that's what it looked like on Tuesday night when the Hawks sat Al Horford and otherwise barely raised a finger to at least try to beat the Toronto Raptors, losing on their home floor, 113-96.
The loss move the Hawks into a tie with the Chicago Bulls, but the Bulls own the tiebreaker between the teams, so even if both teams lose on Wednesday, the Hawks will drop to the No 6 spot in the Eastern Conference and play the Pacers this weekend. The Hawks finish with the New York Knicks, but even if the Knicks rest all of their players, I expect the Hawks to find a way to lose.
The way I see it, that is good news. The Pacers have never stated their preference of opponent but the Hawks seem to be screaming, BRING ON THE PACERS! Frank Vogel can add that to his motivational arsenal as the Pacers continue prepping for the playoffs. I also think the Hawks are currently a better matchup for the Pacers.
Chris Goff from Indy Sports Legends took a nice look at both the Bulls and Hawks to weight which team would be better for the Pacers to face in the first round. He makes the case that the beat up Bulls would be better, while the Hawks, also missing a couple of key pieces, are still more dangerous overall.
Atlanta presents a greater threat to actually win the series. Might the Hawks roll over? Sure. Smith is a pending free agent. So are Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, Johan Petro, Ivan Johnson and Dahntay Jones. Even coach Larry Drew is without a contract for next season. Commitment to the cause might be lacking. But if the Hawks come together, Smith and Horford have a track record of making noise early in the postseason. In three of the past four seasons Atlanta has won a series.
No arguing those concerns, but I latch onto an earlier point that the absence of injured depth in Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia make the Hawks a better matchup for the Pacers. Pachulia in particular has been a problem child for the Pacers with his size to match Roy Hibbert, as well some skill around the rim.
The Pacers and Hawks split four games this year with the Pacers winning both games in which Pachulia didn't play. In Atlanta's two wins, Pachulia had six points and 14 rebounds and 17 points and 14 rebounds. In the last meeting between the teams in Indiana, the Pacers destroyed the starting unit for the Hawks but then relaxed when the benches cleared and the last five guys on Atlanta's bench nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback win.
The series should be entertaining, although the NBA will no doubt give the games the NBA TV treatment. But the Pacers should have an advantage throughout and be able to kill the will of the Hawks, which rarely shows much fight at this time of year.
Which team would you rather see the Pacers play?