D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards at Pacers, Game 34
The Wizards are feeling pretty good, pretty great. And what team wouldn’t be coming off a blowout win (of the six-point variety) against the New Orleans Pelicans? But Randy Wittman & Co. are looking at a different kind of beast tonight, one that has won nine of the last 10 games at home in the Midwest.
There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s get to it. Joining us to preview tonight’s NBA action in Indianapolis is Jared Wade, the founder/editor of 8 Points, 9 Seconds, the Pacers blog in the ESPN TrueHoop Network.
Teams: Wizards at Pacers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/THE FAN-FM 106.7
Spread: Pacers fav’d by 9.5 points
Wizards tickets … anyone?
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Q #1: Paul George has become something of a midrange master, making 44.2 percent, up from 36.3 percent last season. He’s also become a much more efficient offensive player. What’s different about George’s game? Was it simply a matter of time? (Take some notes, Bradley Beal.)
@Jared_Wade: It was probably a matter of time. He has all the physical and mental tools to go along with tremendous ability and a willingness to work. But to make this type of leap, I think it was mostly confidence and letting the game slow down. He did some tangible things this offseason—practicing his shaky ball handling, taking thousands of midrange jumpers—but I think most of the improvement was just him having a few months to process just how well he played against Miami and fully convince himself just how great he could be.
As soon as the season started, it was evident that the game was no longer mysterious to him. He now just moves into whatever open space the defense surrenders and uses his physical advantages to get a good shot. If the defense crowds him too closely, he pushes on towards the rim. If they leave too much room, he shoots. It sounds simple, and it is—for him. Now anyway.
Q #2: Roy Hibbert’s Defensive Rating has climbed steadily from just over 70 at the start of the season to more than 120 (in other words, he’s allowed more points per defensive possession). What’s the deal?
@Jared_Wade: I’m not sure, honestly. I haven’t noticed any individual slippage. More than him doing anything differently, I think it’s just the fact that the Pacers were beating the bloody hell out of everyone they faced for the first 20 games. (We just wrote about this the other day.) Since then, they have still been winning at a high rate, but the starting unit has been less dominant and they haven’t been putting up as many lopsided scores.
Q #3: Imagine you’re Randy Wittman. Your luck has run out, obviously, but you’re still an NBA head coach… How would you beat the Pacers with X’s and O’s?
@Jared_Wade: You get some 2x4s, go to your woodshop and make some large X’s and O’s out of a nice hardwood. Maybe some maple or ash. Then you bring these to the bench and start clubbing anyone you see wearing blue and gold. I kid, but I’m honestly to the point where I have trouble foreseeing any of the Eastern Conference flotsam squads coming into Indiana and winning. No true disrespect to D.C. (I like this team actually), but the talent, consistency and preparedness discrepancies between these two squads is cavernous.
Q #4: The Wizards have a better road record (9-9) than home record (7-8). Can they sneak out of Indy with a win without beating the Pacers’ players with 2x4s?
@JohnCTownsend: It really comes down to matchups. And … well, the Wizards won’t have any favorable ones tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, starting point guard play notwithstanding.
If the Wiz want to reach .500 again, they’ll have to get physical (which they hate doing, plus the Pacers give up an NBA-low 34.7 points in the paint per game). They’ll have to get to the free throw line (which they don’t do, ranked 26th in Free Throw Attempt Rate). And Wittman will have to out-smart one of the better head coaches in the NBA, Frank Vogel (which won’t happen).
The short answer: No, the Wizards can’t win tonight unless they do something illegal (and somehow get away with it).
Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the rest of the gang have the best home record in the NBA (17-1) and have won 14 of the last 17 games against the Wiz, who haven’t won in Indiana since April 18, 2007. The Pacers play in the Eastern Conference, but they’re not an “Eastern Conference” team, if y’know what I mean.
Also, Lance Stephenson is back from an ankle injury which sidelined him Wednesday and will be in the starting lineup tonight. He’ll cause problems for Wittman and his Wiz Kids. When these two teams met earlier this year, Stephenson messed around and nearly got a triple-double: 11 rebounds, 10 assists and seven points. The Pacers won by 20.
A) 2.5 blocks for Roy Hibbert
@Jared_Wade: Over. I’ll guess four.
B) 24.5 combined points and assists for John Wall
C) 4.5 dunks for the Indiana Pacers
@Jared_Wade: Over. Hibbert has had a rough go of late, so I expect him to respond with a few dunks/put-backs. And Paul George is good for one or two a game these days.
True/False: Everybody loves Lance Stephenson
@Jared_Wade: False. I think most everyone playing for teams that don’t play in Indiana actively dislikes him.