Welcome back to Post Up! We are going to continue with what we started yesterday by looking at the playoff picture that is unfolding before our eyes. Yesterday, we looked at the match-ups of two Western Conference games. Those were the games between the Trail Blazers vs. Rockets and Clippers vs. Warriors. Today we are going to venture east and look at the first two match-ups there, so without further adieu, let us dive right in.
Match-up One: Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Set Up:
The Indiana Pacers are limping into this years playoffs, as everyone knows. They did have to beat out Miami for the first seed, but even that was not as great as advertised due to the fact Miami was also losing. The Pacers have lost 4 out of their last 6 and are hoping that their team comes back to life and looks like it did at the beginning of the season. The Atlanta Hawks on the other hand are going into this match-up with a little confidence. They had to beat out New York for the final playoff spot and did. Not only that but, to clinch that spot they had to beat who? Oh yeah, the Miami Heat. In that playoff push they also had impressive wins over fellow playoff teams the Brooklyn Nets and the Indiana Pacers.
During the past season the Pacers and Hawks split their head to head match-ups at 2 a piece. During this game we should expect to see what we did in the middle two games of the season when these two teams met up. We should see George playing at MVP form again and absolutely dominating all aspects of the game. The Hawks on the other hand will be looking to run their offense through Paul Millsap, as they have been since Horford went down this year. Expect the Hawks to also get some big points from Korver and Teague throughout this match-up because sooner or later, Millsap will not be able to take on a double team of Hibbert and West.
What it Boils Down To:
Roy Hibbert and Role Players of the Hawks
Roy Hibbert is going to need to be big time for the Pacers in this match-up. As I touched on earlier, the main focus of offense for the Hawks is Millsap. Roy Hibbert will more than likely be thrown on Millsap, and be charged with containing him. So far this year that has gone well for the Pacers as Millsap has only averaged 9 points and 9 rebounds a game. Hibbert is considered to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and there is no better time to prove that then in the playoffs. If Hibbert can do a good job at eliminating Millsap alone, then the Pacers will not have to double team as much and that will hurt the Hawks greatly. I have been saying this the entire time, but if Hibbert has a big defensive series look for the Hawks to be pushed aside easily.
The other factor that it boils down to in this match-up is the role players of the Hawks. As I touched on earlier, Millsap will be double teamed sooner than later or if he is struggling against Hibbert, then what? Korver and Teague will have to step up, and Korver is already a very one-dimensional player. This means in order for the Hawks to hang in and give the Pacers a tough time, they need to have players like Cartier Martin, DeMarre Carroll, Pero Antic, etc. step up and play big time. Without those guys the Hawks will struggle to even compete with the Pacers and this could be a very quick series.
Indiana Pacers in 4
The Pacers are starting to look like their old selves again, and at the right time too. I believe that Hibbert will be able to stop Millsap by himself and that will unlock the key to the Pacers being able to roll over the Hawks. This Hawks team is ultimately not skilled enough to keep up with the Pacers and will be easily brushed aside. I do believe that the Hawks will come out hungry and looking to surprise the Pacers in the first game and steal one away. Ultimately though, the home crowd and Frank Vogel will have his guys ready and that will not happen. The first game will be the closest of the series, and after that it should be a cake walk for the Pacers into the second round.
Match-up Two: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats
The Set Up:
As I touched on at the beginning of this article, the Miami Heat are also limping into this years playoffs having lost their last 2 games and going 5-5 over the last 10 games. They are still having their issues with Dwayne Wade and whether or not he will be healthy, but that should not stop LeBron in this playoff match-up. The Bobcats are going into the playoffs in very good form however, going 8-2 over their last 10 games and looking to carry that momentum into this series with the Heat.
During the regular season, the Heat and Bobcats met up 4 times and the Heat were seen as the victor in all of them. The playoffs are a beautiful thing because the regular season is more than likely thrown out and a whole new beast is created. I expect that to happen in this series, and it to be a bit more of a contest than it was during the regular season. I expect LeBron to be playing at MVP form and looking next to unstoppable. I also expect for their to be another player on the court that will match him step for step and that is Al Jefferson. Jefferson has been a blessing to the Bobcats this year and he has been grossly underrated all year. I expect him to continue playing well and to give the Heat a very hard time.
What it Boils Down To:
Dwayne Wade and anyone not named Al Jefferson
The Heat can close up this series in a second if Dwayne Wade plays, IF Dwayne Wade plays. Wade is going to be the biggest X-Factor for this Miami Heat team throughout the playoffs because we will never know if and for how long they will have Wade. Skip Bayless made a very good point a few weeks back and by this point in the season anyone who watches the Miami Heat should agree with his opinion on this team. He stated that this team will only go far if they have Wade, and let’s be honest here, that is 100% true. The issue is outside of LeBron, Bosh, and Wade you cannot really count on any of their other players to set up and make a true difference. Sure, there is the possibility that Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole or whomever will go off, but that is a possibility, not a fact. Eliminating Wade takes away a lot from this Miami team and if that was not obvious in last years playoffs, or this past season then I am sorry, you must not be watching the same Miami Heat. If Wade can go Miami should coast to the Eastern Conference Finals, if not, expect a struggle all the way through.
The other key factor to this match-up is whether or not the Bobcats that are not named Al Jefferson will step up. Jefferson against the Heat this year is averaging 25 points and 15 rebounds, but he is only one player and can only do so much. At the end of the day, Jefferson cannot hit every shot on the court, and will have to rest. So then what? That is where the Bobcats need guys like Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson etc. to step up and play big. Very similar to the Atlanta Hawks, the Bobcats are very limited with their talent and their offense very obviously flows through one of their big men. Sooner or later, Jefferson will be seeing double teams from LeBron and whatever center the Heat decide to throw out on the court. Because of that, there will be players open and they will need to hit their shots or make the right pass in order to take advantage of the situation Jefferson is creating. If they can, the Heat will have a very tough time in the first round of the playoffs.
Miami Heat in 5
The Miami Heat with or without Dwayne Wade should not see much of an issue facing this young and inexperienced Bobcats team. At the end of the day, I do not believe that the Bobcats outside Jefferson will be able to step up and make a big enough contribution to trouble LeBron. We should expect Jefferson come out big and hungry against the Miami Heat in the first game and steal one away from them with the help of Walker, Henderson and MKG. This is a common theme with the Heat to come out flat in the first game of a match-up and it should continue to this year. I do expect to see Wade for more than half these games and maybe all them. Right now he is healthy, but only God knows what will happen after he starts to play extended minutes. After the Bobcats steal away the first game from the Heat, expect them to wake up and roll 4-0 over the next four games due to their overwhelming talent. Jefferson will still be playing extremely well, more than likely averaging close to 25 points and 12 rebounds a night and making one or two games close by himself. But, at the end of the day the Heat for the most part will be in cruise control into the second round.
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