TAI Roundtable Opening Statements: Wizards vs. Pacers, NBA Playoffs Round 2 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

TAI Roundtable Opening Statements: Wizards vs. Pacers, NBA Playoffs Round 2

Updated: May 5, 2014

Washington Wizards at Indiana Pacers - Nov. 10, 2012

Round 2 is here.

For today’s Game 1 opening statements, we will be holding a TAI 5-on-5 roundtable featuring Conor Dirks, Sean Fagan, Rashad Mobley, Adam Rubin, and Jared Wade, editor and founder of the Indiana Pacers blog, 8 Points, 9 Seconds.

It’s playoff basketball, dig in, and leggo…

(P.S. – Click to listen to me talk Wizards on a Pacers-themed podcast called “Miller Time.” -K.W.)

Teams: Wizards at Pacers
Time: 7:00 p.m. EDT
Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
Television: TNT
Radio: WFED-AM 1500
Spread: Pacers favored by 4 points.

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#1) What potential defensive matchup intrigues you the most?

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

The Pacers will have to elect either George Hill or Lance Stephenson to guard John Wall. If they go with Lance, then Hill will be matched up against Bradley Beal. On the surface, whoever draws George Hill looks like they’ll have an advantage, but the numbers don’t necessarily bear that out. Hill has a better DefRtg than anyone on Washington’s team (outside of small-sample-size savant Glen Rice Jr.). Then again, Hill has elite defensive teammates, whose efforts boost his rating. I’m curious to see whether Indiana’s guards can cover the amount of floor necessary to stick with Wall and Beal.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

Roy Hibbert vs. Marcin Gortat. Rumors of Hibbert’s demise may be slightly exaggerated, but there is little doubt that this is not the same player who dominated the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring. Hibbert has atrophied so much over the past few months that he has become a liability on both the offensive (spacing) and defensive (perimeter defense) ends. How Frank Vogel uses Hibbert against an incredibly mobile Marcin Gortat may be the key to the entire series for the Wizards. Gortat’s ability to set quick screens for John Wall as well as knock down perimeter shots is going to force Vogel into an early “ride or die” decision with his much maligned big man.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

John Wall and Bradley Beal against George Hill and Lance Stephenson. Hill and Stephenson (and Paul George, occasionally) are tasked with bringing the ball up the floor, and both players have flaws that hindered the Pacers’ offense against the Hawks. Hill has bouts of passivity  and Stephenson can be careless and unnecessarily flashy. If Beal and Wall can disrupt them on offense, and run them ragged on offense, the fragile offensive psyche of the Pacers will continue to haunt them.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

Lance Stephenson vs. Anybody (Beal, Webster, Otto?). I expect Stephenson to run wild this series (in a good way for Indiana). But if any Washington defender can frustrate Lance and force him into turnover after turnover and bad shot after bad, that’s when the Pacers’ self-destructive behavior rears its ugly head.

Jared Wade (@8pts9secs):

It’s obvious, but defending John Wall. He is a problem. Jeff Teague did a lot of damage to George Hill early in the Atlanta series, so Frank Vogel increasingly handed that assignment to Paul George. I imagine Wall will also be able to exploit Hill some, so the Pacers will again mix up the looks, with George but also even Lance Stephenson here and there.

The problem is that while Hill could chase Kyle Korver around without danger of falling into a dangerous mismatch, Bradley Beal has more of a physical presence. He is more versatile and may be able to exploit a matchup with Hill more, which could then make Vogel have to re-think using George on Wall. And since Trevor Ariza is so big, there is nowhere to “hide” Hill at all.

Thus, we’ll probably see a lot of Hill on Wall, and if he isn’t able to contain him, the Pacers will be scrambling for answers. Then again, with Nene and Marcin Gortat being traditional bigs, Hill will always have Roy Hibbert and David West behind him. With the way Atlanta spread things, this wasn’t always the case, so Teague’s quickness advantage became magnified. Regardless, Hill and George and whoever defends Wall need to be sure to always have the team-wide plan in mind, keeping him from getting by them but also not allowing too many easy pull-ups or drive-and-kicks to Ariza and the like.

In short, I will ignore your question, and emphasize the importance of Indiana’s overall plan to defend Wall more so what happens with any individual defenders.


Bradley Beal on Matchup vs Lance Stephenson.

#2) The Wizards lost to the Pacers handily in Indiana in late November and again in early January …

… but paid the Pacers back with a convincing win on their home turf in Washington in late March. Which venue was more indicative of reality?

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

I think it’s a “that was then, this was then” situation, which I realize isn’t something folks normally say. The Pacers were a dominant team until just before the All-Star break, and the Wizards could barely maintain a just-under-.500 record. In early January, not much had changed. In late March, the Wizards were confident, if not consistent, but the Great Pacers Schism was afoot. Now? It’s probably somewhere in between, after watching the Pacers win two straight elimination games against the Hawks, but I think the pendulum still favors Washington.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

The Pacers have yet to prove they are back on track and truly a team again, and if not for the Hawks going completely cold from behind the arc in the latter stages of first round, Frank Vogel would be looking for a job and Larry Bird would be shopping half his team at the moment. However, the Pacers probably are not as bad as people have made them out to be, and with the design of the team being constructed to beat Miami, all they have to do is play at 70 percent of what they are capable of against the Wizards to get their long awaited matchup. No one who follows the Wizards closely, however, truly knows if their performance in the first round was a team finally playing up to its capabilities, or a flash in the pan performance. Both teams are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I’m not sure any expert knows which monster will appear on Monday night.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

The game in late-March. The Pacers were dysfunctional on offense and the Wizards, despite Bradley Beal’s 2-for-13 shooting night, won thanks to late-game heroics by John Wall. Both teams went on significant runs during the game, but in the Wizards had too much offense and the Pacers—who shot 34-percent had made just 28 field goals—didn’t have enough firepower. The Wizards now have Nene, and even more confidence than they did in late March. The Pacers, despite their victory over the Hawks, are day-to-day in the confidence department. And like David West said after losing to the Wizards in late March, “I just don’t know if we’re handling success and being out in front the right way.”

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

Both teams are closer to their late-March incarnations than their early-season form. But the question is which Indiana team will show up. Despite winning Game 7 versus Atlanta, Indiana still doesn’t seem right. Washington should look to establish early leads like they did against Chicago, thus putting pressure on Indiana to do something they have not been able to do for several months—score points.

Jared Wade (@8pts9secs):

They all represented almost perfect representations of reality—at the time. In January, I answered some questions for a Truth About It pre-game preview and said this: “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.”

I wasn’t overstating things. No teams were winning in Indiana back then, and the Pacers’ defense was in the conversation for being one of the best ever, statistically. They were laying waste to everyone.

Things fell apart soon after, however, first with some ugly wins and then with actual losses. By the time late March rolled around, the Pacers were no longer struggling; they were a legitimately bad basketball team nearly every time they took the court. And since the Wizards had improved into a legitimately good team, they ran Indiana out of their building.

Anyone who watched the Pacers barely get by the Hawks knows that the struggles continue. Still, some of that was matchup based, and they did smack Atlanta in Game 7, so we really can’t know whether Indiana is “back,” so to speak. I would expect them to play much better than they did against the Wizards in March (and against the Hawks), but not nearly as good as they did when Washington came to Indiana in January. And there will be big variations from game to game and quarter to quarter. That’s just how they roll now.


Marcin Gortat on Struggles of Roy Hibbert.

#3) What weakness of Indiana can the Wizards exploit?

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

Their psyche. Win Game 1, abuse one player as much as possible to get fingers pointing. Run a small lineup of Wall, Beal, Webster, Ariza, and Gortat to strip the Pacers of their now-tenuous identity, much like Atlanta did. Most importantly, hit those 3-point shots when they come open. Something insidious is chained around a tree at heart of this Pacers team; if the Wizards can liberate that monster, they’ll be able to sow some chaos.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

Spacing. Indiana has been a mess on the offensive end of the court for months and it was only after an emergency facelift that they were able to get out front of an undermanned Hawks team. Washington proved that its frontline is capable of taking away the passing lanes of effective big men (Joakim Noah) and neither David West nor Roy Hibbert are Noah-like in their ability to move the ball. If the Wizards can force the Pacers into the same terrible shot selection that faced the Bulls, they should do enough on the offensive end to survive.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

Aside from David West, the Pacers do not have strong post players. Hibbert is M.I.A., Ian Mahinmi is a big body with limited skills, and Luis Scola excels on the perimeter more than he does in the paint. When the Pacers struggled against the Hawks, they could afford to go small because the Hawks lacked effective post players. Marcin Gortat and Nene will force Frank Vogel to play big, and the Wizards big men should have carte blanche.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

Lack of ball movement. Washington needs to turn Indiana’s offense into a pissing contest between Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Indiana is at its best when George and Stephenson are making spectacular one-on-one plays. But one-on-one plays can also be the Pacers’ downfall. Both players (especially George) are prone to high volume, low percentage shooting performances. Washington’s goal should be to turn the rest of the Pacers (especially David West) into spectators.

Jared Wade (@8pts9secs):

Even at their best, Indiana turns the ball over a ton. This is going to happen whether D.C. tries to exploit it or not, and we saw early in the March game how the momentum can shift in the Wizards favor when John Wall jumps a few passing lanes and they get out on the break.

Even without live-ball turnovers, the Pacers are struggling in transition defense of late. Like all aspects of defense, this used to be a strength but these days, players are slower to get back and missing assignments when they do.

The offensive glass is another area where Indiana has struggled. Roy Hibbert has been a terrible offensive rebounder all season, and the result is fewer second-chance points this year. Washington would be wise to make sure this trend continues by prioritizing the defensive glass. The last thing Nene and Gortat want to do is to allow Hibbert to do is regain some confidence by getting putbacks.


Randy Wittman on Pace vs the Pacers.

#4) What weakness of Washington can the Pacers exploit?

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

A wise man once said that the “Wizards don’t have any weaknesses.” He was, of course, very wrong. In Washington’s first meeting with the Pacers, the Pacers shut down the Wizards fast break, rendering them a half-court offense that relied almost completely on open mid-range attempts and the occasional 3-pointer. Today, these are different teams. The Pacers have gone from a team DefRtg of 93.6 before the All-Star break to 102.3 after it. That’s an unbelievable difference. But the talent is there. If the Pacers can shut down the fast break, and force Washington into half-court sets, they can keep the score low.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

Hero ball. There is a strong chance that John Wall and Bradley Beal can be goaded into shooting the Wizards out of this series with enough harassment from Lance Stephenson and some muscular extracurriculars from the Pacers front court and bench. Wall didn’t ‘blow up” in the first round, which was good for the Wizards in that he stayed in his lane and managed his game to get the ball to the hot hand, whether it was Beal, Ariza or Nene. However, if things start going south for the Wizards, it is easy to envisage a scenario where the Pacers goad Wall (and to a lesser extent Beal) into shooting at a volume that hurts the team.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

The Wizards are prone to extended lapses on both ends of the floor, which also means their susceptible to allowing their opponents to go on momentum-changing runs. The Bulls—led by D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson—were able catch the Wizards sleeping at different points during the game, but they lacked the scorers to capitalize for extended periods of time (except for Mike Dunleavy’s career night). As dysfunctional and disjointed as the Pacers are on offense, Lance Stephenson, David West, Paul George and even Luis Scola possess the ability to get hot, which means any lapses the Wizards have and can cost them the game, not just a quarter here and there.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

The Chicago series was great and all, but it may have created a false sense of security. The Bulls offense was so bad that it masked Washington’s own offensive inefficiencies. If Hibbert can reprise his role as rim protector then Indiana’s stingy perimeter defenders can force Washington into a lot more contested mid-range shots than Chicago could.

Jared Wade (@8pts9secs):

It isn’t a weakness but simply their team structure. Washington is one of the few other teams in the league that matches Indiana’s traditional positional structure: PG, SG, SF, PG, C. You could even argue the D.C. squad is more fundamental with an even bigger power forward. After a long series chasing around Atlanta’s shooters, this will be a welcome change for guys like David West and Roy Hibbert.

If they can get comfortable early and find success by getting back to their “power post” ways, it could help kickstart the team’s muscle memory. It might remind them how they used to play so well. I don’t think we’ll see a full return to the Pacers of November, but some quick success playing a bruising, big brand of basketball could be what they need to rekindle a bit of that magic.


Nene on Sleeplessness.

#5) Who’s the x-factor for each team in this series?

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

For the Wizards, the x-factor is Trevor Ariza. Ariza is the perfect defender against Paul George, who is brilliant when he doesn’t try to be an offensive superstar. If he does, Ariza will enshroud him with hookah smoke and hotbox the court until George loses his confidence.

For the Pacers, the x-factor is David West. He’s going to be a much harder mark for Nene than Joakim Noah was. He’s tough, the heart of the team, and if Nene let Jimmy Butler get under his skin, then David West is going to set up camp in Nene’s subdermis and troll everything.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

Roy Hibbert. This entire postseason is a dissertation on how the classic big man exists in the modern NBA, whether big men really do “break down” without warning and whether the net value in having a great rim protector is worth the offense stagnating due to lack of ball movement. If November Roy Hibbert shows up, then the Wizards are in deep trouble, as he will take away the penetration of Wall and lessen the effectiveness of Wall’s slash and kick game. If March Statue Hibbert suits up, then the Wizards should be able to handily defeat the Pacers due to high level of play from Nene and Marcin Gortat.

Trevor Ariza. For the ultimate “contract year” player, as the stage gets bigger, the dollar signs keep getting larger. Ariza is a fascinating case in how less is occasionally ten times more valuable than more. Gone are the errant drives and strange pull ups that reduced Ariza’s value while playing in New Orleans. Instead, Ariza has thrived by concentrating on doing the two things he excels at: playing defense and spotting up for corner 3s. If Ariza hits with any consistency, then the Wizards are hard to stop. Without Ariza reliably spacing the floor, the Pacers can concentrate on taking away the primary offensive weapons of Wall and Beal

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

The x-factor for the Pacers in this series, and for as long as they stay in the playoffs, is Roy Hibbert. If he’s confident, he’ll give Nene and Gortat fits on offense and prevent the Wizards from sniffing the paint on defense. If he’s still in the doldrums, he’ll force Frank Vogel to adjust his rotations and the Wizards’ big men will take advantage. For the Wizards, the x-factor will be Trevor Ariza. Paul George has averaged just 16 points in three games against the Wizards this season. If Ariza can keep George at that mark or lower, while scoring 15-20 a night himself, the Wizards will win this series handily.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

Indiana: Ian Mahinmi. If Hibbert continues to play like he is in quick sand, then Mahinmi will have a much larger role in this series than he did versus Atlanta, because Indiana needs a true center to guard Marcin Gortat. If Mahinmi can contain Gortat, then the pressure will be on Washington’s perimeter players to make contested jumpers. If he can’t, then this series may be defined by a cavalcade of Wall/Gortat pick-and-rolls.

Washington: Martell Webster. Washington’s offense is at its best when the 3-pointers are flowing. But two of its best marksmen (Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal) will likely be covered by the Pacers’ two best defenders. That leaves Martell as the Wizard likely to see the most open looks from long range. Webster has a chance to swing the series if he can finally put together a string of games with multiple 3-pointers.

Jared Wade (@8pts9secs):

I’m sure there are some bench guys on each side that matter. C.J. Watson has been somewhat of a spark plug in terms of bringing energy to the team when he plays, and Luis Scola has had some nice shooting games recently. Trevor Booker seems to play well against Indiana and Al Harrington could get some minutes at the stretch four to help Randy Wittman replicate some of Atlanta’s success.

But aside from the random happenstance that will inevitably occur from game to game, I think this series comes down to the starters we know and love for both teams. Both squads have a formidable starting core, and it will be which of those executes better, more consistently and at the end of games that will decide the series.



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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.