NBA Playoffs 2014: Atlanta Hawks Are Eastern Conference Contenders

The 2014 NBA playoffs, thanks to the Atlanta Hawks and others, are shaping up to be more like the professional version of March Madness after the first day of games. After the Atlanta Hawks upset the number one seed in the East, the Indiana Pacers, on Saturday night, some serious questions need to be asked. Many were concerned about the Pacers as they limped into the number one seed and a first round match up against the hapless Hawks. But surely this first round series would be more like a bye than an NBA playoff series.

Unfortunately the Indiana Pacers came out looking flat and the Atlanta Hawks actually opened the 2014 NBA playoffs looking like, well, contenders. Obviously it is too early in the NBA playoffs to start awarding series wins and Conference titles, but if the Hawks play the whole series like they did on Saturday night, the Eastern Conference is on notice.

Jeff Teague, the Hawks point guard, mostly floated under the radar this season, receiving some praise for carrying the team to a joke of an eight seed. But with the well documented struggles of the Pacers' point guard George Hill, Teague took full advantage of the situation. Scoring 28 points for the Atlanta Hawks, Jeff Teague looked like an MVP candidate on the court in Indianapolis. George Hill looked lost, defeated, and overmatched. With no legitmate back up at the point guard position, the Indiana Pacers are in for real trouble against Jeff Teague.

Of course Jeff Teague is not the only reason the Atlanta Hawks might make it through to the second round of the 2014 NBA playoffs. David West and Roy Hibbert were completely ineffective in stopping Paul Millsap, who dominated the paint. Millsap poured in 25 points for the Atlanta Hawks, including two important three pointers, while Hibbert and West combined for only 16 points. It looks as if the Hawks are more than capable of exploiting the two glaring weaknesses the Pacers revealed heading into the NBA playoffs. Their point guard play is weak and the big men have gone missing.

After the game one win for the Atlanta Hawks, the question is not "can they beat the Pacers"? The question is "how far can the Hawks go in the 2014 NBA playoffs"? If they are able to handle the Pacers the rest of the series like they did Saturday night, they will take on either the Chicago Bulls or the Washington Wizards. Both of those teams are vulnerable. Washington is talented, but inexperienced. The Bulls are battle tested, have heart, and know how to win. But if the Jeff Teague that showed up on Saturday night continues this way through the rest of the playoffs, it will spell trouble for a weak Chicago backcourt.

Although it is early in the 2014 NBA playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks may actually emerge as the deep sleeper team that no one expected to contend in the Eastern Conference.

[Image via FanSided]