The Wizards and Pacers face off tonight in Washington for the third time in about two weeks. Indiana is coming off an emotional 112-104 comeback victory over the New York Knicks in Indiana last night, and the Wizards are coming off an emotionless effort at home against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday. For tonight’s 3-on-3 we have Tim Donahue (@TimDonahue8p9s) from the ESPN TrueHoop Pacers blog 8 Points, 9 Seconds, along with TAI’s Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20) and Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It). Let it begin…
#1) What stat and what player will most determine the outcome of this game?
DONAHUE: Oscar Wilde says, “Talent borrows, genius steals,” so I’m going to shamelessly steal from Kyle Weidie’s response to a similar question from the last Pacers-Wiz 3-on-3: Offensive Rebounding. In the first matchup, the Pacers grabbed 11 of the 19 boards off their offensive glass in the second half, when they outscored Washington 54-32. In the second one, the Wiz stayed close by grabbing 38-percent of the rebounds on their offensive end. The player most likely to influence the outcome of this game is two of them: George Hill and Leandro Barbosa. They are the barometers of the Pacer bench.
MOBLEY: It sounds simple, but its all about rebounding. The final boxscore from the last Pacers/Wizards game shows the Pacers had the advantage 40-35. But in the second half of the game (when the Pacers outscored the Wizards 54-32), Indiana had a 26-11 rebounding advantage. Roy Hibbert had nine rebounds in the second half and David West had four — three of which were kept the Wizards from taking the lead in the last minute. With Nene and Booker likely to be out again, the Wizards will need collaborative rebounding effort, while the Pacers could (and should) exploit the Wizards’ replacement frontline.
WEIDIE: Rebounding, clearly, but I’m going to go with Washington turnovers. Expect the Wizards to get cleaned on the boards — if they’re lucky, few defensive rebounds will bounce long into Indiana’s hands — but if they want to stay in the game, they’ll have to limit turnovers. The key to this stat? Well, the Wizards’ containment of carelessness starts with John Wall, but also keep an eye on the Jordan Crawford-Paul George matchup. If JC feels added urgency to shoot due to stagnant offense, and the length of George is bothering him, it could be a long night, as usual, for the Wiz kids.
#2) In his last two games against the Pacers, Jordan Crawford has dropped 41 total points on 35 total shots… but do the Pacers even care to focus their defense on this guy? From the Wizards’ end, is Crawford being a high-usage offensive player their only hope to compete (without Booker and Nene)?
DONAHUE: Jordan Crawford is an interesting case study for the Pacers. According to mySynergySports.com, eight of Crawford’s 15 makes came in transition on 14 shots. That means he was 7-for-21 out of the half court offense. Ultimately, what Indiana needs to do with Crawford is to keep him from getting opportunities in transition, because they can live with what he gets in half court. As to competing with Indy tonight, I think Washington is far better off looking to bog down the Pacer offense, aggressively doubling the post, and making it a low scoring affair than they are hoping for a big offensive night from anyone to carry them.
MOBLEY: Given Jordan Crawford’s inability to string four quarters of shooting excellence together, the Pacers should focus on him for exactly one half. If he’s off in the first half, they should deny him the ball in the second. And if he’s on the first half, they should let him shoot, because chances are he won’t be successful. From the Wizards perspective, Wall will need to assume more of the scoring duties, while making sure Crawford, Cartier Martin and Roger Mason get open 3-point shots to keep the Pacers offense honest.
WEIDIE: Perhaps this question would be best posed to Wizards coach Randy Wittman. So I did before tonight’s game, asking him, as a coach, how does he balance trying to get Crawford to participate in more structured offense versus knowing that someone on his injury-depleted team needs to score, that someone’s gotta shoot. “He’s a young kid that has great confidence in himself, and he’s doing a better job in trying to understand what good shot selection is and what we expect of him,” said Wittman. “I think he’s made progress in that as we’ve moved on. But he’s an aggressive kid, and you never want to take aggression away. You want to coach him and get him to understand the good shot/bad shot thing, and like I said, I think he’s doing a better job of that.”
Hope? Obi-Wan Kenobi ain’t walking through that door.
#3) The total margin of victory between these teams in their last two meetings, both Pacers wins, has been six points. Tonight, Indy is favored by eight points in D.C., as Washington will again be without the services of Nene and Trevor Booker. The game can’t possibly be close again this time, can it?
DONAHUE: Sure it can. Matchups are a crazy thing in the NBA, and the Pacers have trouble with the Wizards for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me – but real, nonetheless. Plus, the Pacers are coming off a hugely emotional comeback victory over the Knicks, and this squad hasn’t been long on attention span. Finally, the game is in Washington, and it’s always hard to win on the road in the NBA. Still, the absence of Nene and Booker would significantly alter the calculus of these two teams, so the Pacers might break out, but my default position is to expect another tight, ugly affair.
MOBLEY: This game will be close. John Wall is overdue for a “I’m John Effing Wall” game, so it makes sense (kind of) that it happens two days after his alma mater won the NCAA title. And if that happens, all he needs is one teammate to have a decent game for the Wizards to be competitive. The Pacers only had one starter play over 30 minutes last night against the Knicks (Danny Granger played 37 minutes), and Roy Hibbert and David West sat out the entire fourth quarter, so they should be spry — especially early in the game. The Pacers, as has been the trend the past two games, will win a close game, 92-87.
WEIDIE: I’ve predetermined a Wizards blowout before only to have them surprise me, but without Nene, they don’t stand a chance. “There’s habits that you build on the defensive end — protecting the paint, showing out on every pick-and-roll, guarding your own man, taking the air space of shooters — that we want to do that against no matter who’s in uniform,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel told me before the game. “We know that the offense is going to run through John Wall, so there’s obviously going to be more of a focus there, but we’re really just focused on building our defensive habits.” When a playoff team’s goal is to focus on themselves, they’re usually not that worried about the opponent. But later, when Vogel was asked if the win over the Knicks would give his team an emotional boost or drain them on a night like tonight, he responded: “I don’t know… we’ll see. I think if I’m commenting just as a sports fan, I’d say there’s probably a risk of it draining them. But hopefully that’s not the case with our guys tonight.”
We will see indeed. Pacers by double-digits, however, I say… commenting as a sports fan.