Without doing the research, it is safe to say no top seed has ever entered the postseason with a 6-24-1 ATS record in their last 31 contests. In fact, take it a step further and we suggest quite possibly no team playoff team has underperformed so badly against the sportsbooks like Indiana, until this year.
These two Eastern Conference teams ended up being separated by 18 games in the standings but ended up splitting four games during the regular season. The difference between these clubs has been minimal since Mar. 1, with both sporting 12-13 marks. Neither can be proud of that record, especially the Pacers.
Indiana Needs to Win to Build Confidence
After appearing invincible the first half of the season, something went wrong with the Pacers. Popular theories were Indiana was just bored and wanted the playoffs to start, which might have held validity unless you think about San Antonio.
No real answer was ever determined and what really seemed to be the problem was team chemistry and the lack of offense.
As noted by several NBA basketball handicappers and other pundits, the trade for Evan Turner added nothing to Indiana. Danny Granger might have been shell of his former self, but he was well-respected in the locker room.
Coach Frank Vogel does not have a very good offensive team, save Paul George. Indiana scored 96.7 points a game against competition which allowed 101. The Pacers lack of offensive flow is measured by being 20th in the Association in offensive efficiency (The amount of points scored versus all shots taken), with only Chicago being worse among the playoff teams.
We know Indiana is the best defensive team in the NBA (Bulls fans might disagree), but if the Pacers are to reach their goal of making the NBA Finals, Roy Hibbert cannot disappear on the offensive end and guards Lance Stephenson and George Hill have to score more consistently and be better ball-handlers.
Atlanta has to be Pesky
The Hawks are the only team in the postseason with a losing record at 38-44 and if it were not for the East being so incredibly weak, their season would be over.
Nonetheless, Atlanta won seven of their last ten to nail down the last position in the East.
Among the aspects to watch for is how often Atlanta decides to play “small ball” to limit or possibly even take Hibbert out of the game. This strategy can have hit or miss consequences, but if effective, head coach Mike Budenholzer can spring it on the Pacers at any time.
If the Hawks are to come close to springing the upset, they have to win the individual matchups. Paul Millsap shot 17.2 percent when guarded directly by the Pacers bigs, which will not cut it. Millsap held Hibbert to 1 for 10 shooting in direct confrontations and if he can keep him to around 25%, this will matter.
Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll will have to score 15 to 20 percent more than their regular season averages (12.0 and 11.2 PPG respectively) and point guard Jeff Teague will have to outplay Hill.
Can Atlanta beat the betting odds and pull the unimaginable upset? If they make the aforementioned factors work, they have a chance.
Odds and Perspective
For those making sports picks, Indiana was released as -560 series favorite and the Pacers should dismiss Atlanta rather quickly. The edges Indiana enjoys are height advantages at every position, they are the superior defensive team and they had the best home record in the NBA at 35-6 (21-19-1 ATS), while the Hawks were 14-28 away from home.
If Indiana plays with purpose and win the first two games at home convincingly (covering spreads), Atlanta fans will not show up with their team down 0-2 and the Pacers can start creating that confidence they so desperately need.
Here is a name to remember if Atlanta is to win a game or two to make this a series, center Pero Antic. In both Hawks win, the sweet-shooting rookie averaged 17 points a game and drew Hibbert away from the paint to curtail his defensive effectiveness. If this works again, suddenly Teague can get to the rim for layups and kick-outs to Korver and Lou Williams.
Playing somebody tough and winning are two different things. The Hawks could create issues, but if Indiana plays how they are capable of, at worst it should the gentlemen’s sweep.
NBA Basketball Series Free Pick: Indiana in five