Indiana has the length to deal with Josh Smith and Horford. Atlanta has been treading water for months, watching Smith hoist up more and more threes as the absence of Lou Williams’ and his offensive dynamics becomes clear. While Horford can neutralize the rejuvenated Roy Hibbert and his post-game, who will stop David West on the elbow?
The guess is that Larry Drew uses Josh Smith on Indiana’s most versatile weapon, Paul George, leaving West to have some fun with Atlanta’s undersized reserve forwards. If Horford moves to West, Hibbert will have the opportunity to dominate Zaza Pachulia and Johan Petro.
On the other end, George should be bottling up Deron Williams as much as possible. If the Pacers limit D-Will, the Nets won’t have enough balance to get past one of the top defenses in the league, and the Pacers survive the low-flying Hawks. These playoffs are critical for the Pacers, who are not being taken seriously in the East. George Hill and Lance Stephenson are physical defenders who have been knocking down their 3′s. If those trends continue, the Pacers will demand to be taken seriously beyond the first round.
Players to watch: Paul George does his best Scottie Pippen impression (steals, blocks, clutch 3′s and impressive drives) for the despondent Hawks crowd. Also keep an eye on Horford and Hibbert, two of the better interior defenders in the league. This is the end of the Josh Smith-era in Atlanta. Stephenson, who should receive Most Improved Player votes, was a teenage legend in Brooklyn, who Larry Bird took under his wing in Indiana after the 2010 draft. This spring may be his coming out party. Read Jonathan Abrams’ great Stephenson piece here.
Darko Index Predicts: Pacers in 7. (77% confidence rating)
For the complete post, click here: http://darkoindex.com/2013/04/17/eastern-conference-playoff-preview/
Thanks for reading and Go Pacers,