An event so nice, they had to do it twice.
With the Miami Heat losing to the Washington Wizards on Monday night, the Indiana Pacers are now locked into the No. 1 seed, meaning they will match up with the No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks in the first-round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
These two teams faced off a year ago as the 3 and 6 seeds respectively, with both teams taking each of the first five home games until the Pacers knocked off the Hawks in Atlanta in Game 6. Paul George led the way with 18.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game during the series.
The Pacers have limped to the finish line in 2014, having a totally collapsed on offense since the All-Star Break.
After starting 46-13, Indiana has gone 9-13 in their last 24 games, including a thorough 107-88 walloping at the hands of the Hawks on April 6. They have the 29th ranked offense since the All-Star Break, and have many around the league wondering if Indiana can even challenge the Heat en route to making the NBA Finals.
The Hawks have been ravaged by injuries this season, but if Pero Antic is close to 100%, then the Hawks will be about as healthy as they have been post-Horford pectoral injury.
It will be a clash of styles as the Pacers play at the 21st ranked pace and are 25th in three-pointers taken, to the Hawks’ 13th and 2nd mark respectively. Indiana prefers to play inside-out behind the slashing Paul George and mid-range mastery of David West. The Hawks have excelled at passing the ball and finding the open man and are among the league leaders in three-pointers made.
None of this is to say Atlanta has anything more than a puncher’s chance at springing the upset. Indiana’s defense is still first in the league in points per possession and the Hawks have simply looked too inconsistent and mediocre to warrant too much hype. Roy Hibbert has proved to be a major defensive force in the paint when these two teams meet and don’t expect that to change this week.
Since the NBA moved to a 16-team playoff in 1985, only four No. 8 seeds have knocked off a No. 1 seed: 1994 Nuggets over the Sonics, 1999 Knicks over Heat, 2007 “We Believe” Warriors over the Mavericks, and the 2012 76ers over the Bulls. Only the Knicks would beat the following opponent of the four.
It’s a matchup of two tough teams that aren’t exactly friends. Look for a physical fight that may drag out to six or seven games.