Series preview: Pacers vs. Hawks

Updated: April 17, 2014, 6:21 PM ET
ESPN.com

Our 5-on-5 crew breaks down the first-round matchup between the Pacers and Hawks:


1. What's the scariest thing -- good or bad -- about the Pacers?


Bo Churney, HawksHoop: Roy Hibbert's recent lack of production. The Hawks are vulnerable to teams that can overpower them inside and on the glass, seemingly making this a matchup where Hibbert could get his groove back. However, Hibbert has struggled against the Hawks the past two seasons, and if he fails to remedy his troubles against a hobbled Atlanta team, it's hard to see him doing it against Chicago, Toronto or Miami.

Buddy Grizzard, HawksHoop: The scariest thing for Pacers fans is Indiana's fractured chemistry. Larry Bird traded Danny Granger, who gracefully accepted his reduced role, for Evan Turner, who is in direct competition with Lance Stephenson for a contract after this season. Bird, like the Thunder's Sam Presti, was nearly flawless in building his team. This could be Bird's James Harden trade.

Jared Wade, TrueHoop Network: That nobody has any idea who they are anymore. This team could still make it to the NBA Finals or start its summer vacation in about a week. The Pacers we saw in November and December could carve up the Heat, but the incarnation we watched in March would lose in five to the Hawks. It's clear that they are now somewhere in between, but we don't know exactly where. And here's what should keep them up at night: neither do they.

Michael Wells, ESPN.com: That they could actually lose the series. It's not going to happen, but the fact that the thought of them getting upset after the way they started the season is even a possibility is not a good sign. The Pacers make games so much tougher than they should be. They have one of the most talented rosters in the NBA, but too often over the past month they've looked as though they don't like playing with one another. That doesn't equate to success.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: They're a terrific home team, which is often the elixir that ignites their fragile offense. They have home-court advantage throughout the entire East playoffs, and they're going to need it to try to rediscover their momentum.


2. What's the scariest thing -- good or bad -- about the Hawks?


Churney: For the Pacers, the scariest thing about the Hawks will be their confidence. Atlanta just beat Indiana, Miami and Brooklyn, all within the last two weeks, plus the Hawks split their season series with both the Pacers and Heat. The Hawks really have little to fear about the Pacers, despite the Pacers being the No.1 seed in the conference.

Grizzard: It's the sheer number of 3-point shooters available. Pero Antic, Shelvin Mack, Mike Scott, Kyle Korver, Cartier Martin and Lou Williams all shot 30 percent or better from 3-point range against the Pacers this season. The success or failure of Antic at pulling Roy Hibbert away from the basket will be the key to this series.

Wade: Pero Antic. In addition to looking like a Bond villain bent on global takeover, he can space the floor for the Hawks, and that could potentially take the Pacers' literal biggest strength -- its size -- and make it into a weakness. Pulling the Pacers' bigs out of the paint can neutralize that stingy defense. So it's no coincidence that Antic played in Atlanta's two wins over Indiana this season, scoring a combined 34 points on 18 shots, while he sat with an injury in the two losses.

Wells: Who would have ever predicted anybody would say center Pero Antic? His ability to shoot from the perimeter causes matchup problems for the Pacers. Roy Hibbert isn't comfortable stepping out on the perimeter to defend players capable of shooting that far out. Antic shot 72 percent from the field in two games against the Pacers this season. He was 6-of-10 on 3-pointers in those games, which were both victories by Atlanta. If Hibbert struggles early, coach Frank Vogel may have to turn to Ian Mahinmi, who is more athletic than Hibbert, or put David West on Antic, which still puts the Pacers in a tough position because Hibbert can't guard Paul Millsap.

Windhorst: Just two weeks ago they totally thrashed the Pacers on their floor, creating a drama on the bench between some Pacers players. That game inflicted some damage on the Pacers and may have given the Hawks a belief they can compete.


3. Who's the biggest X-factor in this series?


Churney: Atlanta's rookie Pero Antic. The Hawks' starting lineup with Antic at center gives them five 3-point shooters on the floor at once, which should give the Hawks optimal spacing against an Indiana defense that prides itself on protecting the rim.

Grizzard: Lance Stephenson. Korver shot 50 percent (10-for-20) from 3-point range against the Pacers this season. Turner has been a defensive turnstile and particularly bad at defending the 3. Stephenson must win this matchup at both ends or the Pacers will be in trouble.

Wade: C.J. Watson. The Pacers have looked more like their old selves since he returned after sitting out (essentially) 18 straight games with injury. His 20 points against the Thunder were huge last Sunday, and his ability to produce off the bench becomes even more important if George Hill continues to disappoint with his output.

Wells: Roy Hibbert. He was benched after only playing nine minutes and going scoreless against the Hawks on April 6. He's been atrocious on offense lately -- 22-of-81 from the field in his final 10 games -- but the Pacers don't need him to score. They need him to protect the rim the same way he did early in the season when everybody was talking about him as the clear frontrunner for defensive player of the year. Asking Hibbert to score and defend seems to be too much for him to handle lately. Simply defend. That's all he has to do.

Windhorst: Pero Antic. The big rookie gave Hibbert grief during the regular season, basically persuading Frank Vogel to bench him earlier this month. In his last two games against the Hawks, he's scored 18 and 16 points. But he's been dealing with an ankle injury, so that could be a factor.


4. What's one BOLD prediction for this series?


Churney: Jeff Teague struggled in last year's series against the Pacers, but that will not be the case this year. Teague has been on fire lately, averaging 18 points and six assists on nearly 60 percent true-shooting since the All-Star break. With his struggles last postseason possibly costing him money over the summer, Teague might make it personal to improve this time around.

Grizzard: This series will go six games. Last season, Larry Drew spotted the Pacers a 2-0 series lead by assigning Korver to guard Paul George. This time the Hawks have DeMarre Carroll to draw that assignment, freeing Korver to pick apart the Pacers' defense. The Hawks play smarter and harder under Mike Budenholzer.

Wade: David West carries the Pacers and clearly looks like the team's MVP by the time it's over. After a long slump, he has made 37-of-60 shots (61.7 percent) in his last five games, while averaging 17.6 points per contest. He has long been the team's leader behind the scenes, and he'll extend that to the court when his teammates need it the most.

Wells: The Hawks will take one of the first two games in the series. The Pacers finished with the best home record in the league (35-6), but they're vulnerable right now. I'm not sure which Indiana team will show up on a game-to-game basis. The Hawks were up by 32 points at halftime the last time they played in Indianapolis. Vogel will use their loss to the Hawks less than two weeks ago as motivation, but it won't be enough to stop them from losing a game at home.

Windhorst: The Pacers rediscover some rhythm and blast through the Hawks, despite limping into the postseason.


5. Who wins this series and in how many games?


Churney: Pacers in six. Atlanta will give Indiana some trouble because of its unique spacing options, but without Al Horford, the Hawks simply do not have enough on offense and defense to overcome Paul George, David West and the Pacers.

Grizzard: Pacers in six. This series could either break the Pacers or ignite a run to the NBA Finals. The Hawks split the season series without an appearance by Al Horford. Indiana will be challenged but will prevail.

Wade: Pacers in six. They are playing too inconsistently right now to knock off the Hawks in five or fewer, and the Pacers have long struggled to win in Atlanta. Last year's playoff series between the two went six, and I expect the same this postseason.

Wells: Pacers in six. This series will go longer than it should because the Pacers have not shown much over the past three-plus weeks, outside of victories over Miami and Oklahoma City. Two of their last three wins to close out the regular season were with backups getting all or the majority of the playing time. Indiana needs to make quick work of the Hawks because a likely second-round matchup against Chicago awaits them.

Windhorst: Pacers in five. A classic gentleman's sweep, where the Hawks take advantage of the fact that Indiana is a .500 team on the road.

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