Pacers-Hawks Playoff Preview: Five Key Factors

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yawnDo they have to play this series? Do we really have to watch it and pay close attention?

Look, we all know how bad the Leastern Conference was this season, and we all knew that there would be at least one bad team crashing the party. And the one we ended up with is an Atlanta Hawks team whose general manager, Danny Ferry, said a few weeks back that it really didn’t matter if the Hawks qualified for the postseason or not.

Way to set the bar high, Danny.

So the Hawks come in after having gone 38-44 in the regular season, although they did finish with a flourish by defeating Indiana, Brooklyn and Miami during April. They go up against an Indiana Pacers team that has been going through such a crisis over the past month that coach Frank Vogel benched all of his starters a week ago for a game against the Milwaukee Bucks that the Pacers needed to have to stay in contention for the No. 1 seed.

Bernucca: Have Pacers Lost Belief in Themselves?

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Believe it or not, there’s someone out there who doesn’t think the Indiana Pacers are coming apart at the seams. Lance Stephenson

“Everybody goes through this,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said last week after San Antonio manhandled Indiana, 103-77, on the Pacers’ home court. “I’m not worried about them. They’ll still make it to the Eastern Conference finals and they’ll still play Miami.”

Parker is somewhat right. From time to time, every championship contender has a stretch during a season where they look ordinary. Addled. Even awful at times.

Last month, the Miami Heat lost three in a row and seven of 11, including a home contest to Denver and a visit to New Orleans after which Chris Bosh plainly said, “We suck.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder welcomed back Russell Westbrook as they came out of the All-Star break and immediately lost three straight and five of eight, including a home loss to Cleveland and a road setback to the L.A. Lakers. The Houston Rockets were a pedestrian 8-8 in December, losing at home and on the road to Sacramento, at Utah and being blasted at Oklahoma City and Indiana.

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PODCAST: What Will Intimidate the Pacers in the Playoffs?

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The Miami Heat do not intimidate the Indiana Pacers. That much was very, very clear in their matchup Wednesday night.

But you know what intimidates the Pacers? The moment.

We saw it last year in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals when they looked like deer in the headlights. And we saw it again Wednesday night when George Hill went to the line with 1.8 seconds left and a chance to put Indiana ahead by 3 – and promptly missed both free throws.

My biggest question regarding the Pacers is whether they have the moxie and confidence to get the job done in a winner-take-all game.

And we already know that the Heat possess those characteristics.

More on that subject, plus a spirited defense of the Philadelphia 76ers, in this interview on 1070-TheFan with Michael O’Grady and Joe Staysniak on “The Grady & Big Joe Show” in Indianapolis.

Online Basketball Radio at Blog Talk Radio with Sheridan Hoops Radio on BlogTalkRadio

Sixth Man Rankings: Markieff Morris is forcing his way into the conversation

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Markieff  & Marcus Morris Suns After starting off the season atop the Sixth Man Rankings and quickly dropping out, Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris has climbed his way back into the top spot following consecutive weeks of efficient scoring.

Despite playing the entire month of January without star point guard Eric Bledsoe – out indefinitely due to knee surgery – Phoenix still surprisingly stands seven games above .500. They are currently the seventh seed in a loaded Western Conference.

Coach Jeff Hornacek is in his first year and doesn’t have an All-Star (although Goran Dragic deserves consideration). The Suns are the fourth-least experienced team in the league. Miraculously, they just keep on winning.

Markieff Morris has been a huge reason why.

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Sprung: Pacers Strive on Strong Defense and Intensity – UPDATE

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David WestThe first thing you notice watching the undefeated Indiana Pacers is their intensity.

More than the other seven teams this writer has seen in person this season, Indiana plays hard and aggressive basketball for 48 minutes. Indiana remained unbeaten at 8-0 after Monday’s 95-79 home win over Memphis.

“We are just trying to play our style of basketball,” Pacers forward David West said after Indiana’s hard-fought 96-91 win over the Nets on Saturday in Brooklyn.

That tough, tenacious style includes going hard on every possession and playing the league’s best defense. Indiana has allowed just 84.5 points per game this season, the best mark in the NBA by 6.5 points.

The following chart shows the many ways that the Pacers have the NBA’s best defense:

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