Opening Statements: Wizards at Pacers, Game 81 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at Pacers, Game 81

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Updated: April 14, 2015

Washington Wizards vs Indiana Pacers

In which jockeying position is determined…

As the lower echelon of the Eastern Conference scrambles to determine their playoff fates, the Washington Wizards find themselves safely ensconced in the 5-seed, watching to see whether they draw the Chicago Bulls or the Toronto Raptors as their first-round opponents. As of right now, they have a 57.6 percent chance of playing the former in a rematch and a 42.4 percent of playing the latter and opening the playoffs on foreign soil.

A date with the Bulls would likely put the Wizards on the national radar again regardless of seeding, while playing against the Dinos smells of a series that the Association would like to relegate to NBA TV (even though Raps fans can be just as involved as Warriors or Blazers fans). Whichever the case, the Wizards enter the final two games of the season in a position of tinkering and solidifying their rotation.

Tonight sees the Wizards journeying to Indiana, the land of equality and love for all, to play a Pacers team that controls its own fate as they head into the final two games of their own season. If the Pacers win both games, they make the playoffs as the 8-seed. If they find themselves in a tie with the Brooklyn Nets when the dust settles, then they can prepare their golf clubs for the offseason.

The last two times the two teams met in March, it represented the nadir of the Wizards season, as George Hill made a layup a tick ahead of the final buzzer to give the Pacers the win. It was perhaps the textbook example of everything that had derailed for the Wizards over the course of a disastrous period between February and March. The Wizards had coughed up a 10-point lead in the late stages of the game, broke down defensively, and clung tenaciously to their offensive system which was (and perhaps still is) incapable of providing open looks with the game on the line. The Pacers had 26 3-point attempts to the Wizards paltry 14, and Bradley Beal only attempted five shots from the field. It felt like a tipping point in the wrong direction, as the Wizards appeared set to to pull a 2013-14 Indiana Pacers and devolve into a bickering, stats-first mess (only without any of the TMZ-esque drama under the surface).

The ship has not been righted, but the Wizards have bailed enough water out of the boat to the point where it is again recognizable as a seafaring vessel. Randy Wittman has tightened his rotation, but has also given players seldom-used in the earlier portions of the season a chance to play a role. Into the rotation on a regular basis have stepped Otto Porter and Drew Gooden, one a nod to youth and the other to experience (1). If you combined both players into a hybrid, you come close to the stretch 4 role that Trevor Ariza played at times for the Wizards last year when he wasn’t at the wing position. That is, if you squint really hard and stare directly into the sun.

Regardless, the Pacers will be playing this game with their playoff lives at stake. Their superstar player, Paul George, has returned to them in time to throw on his Superman cape and do damage in a limited capacity. The Wizards are just trying to stay healthy and preserve whatever is left in the tank for their elder citizens.(2) It would not be a surprise to see the Wizards constructively take a night off and lose to the Pacers. And that’s fine, as long as it does not happen in the same fashion that brought them to their lowest point.


Teams: Wizards at Pacers
Time: 8:00 p.m. EST
Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
Television: TNT
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Pacers fav’d by 7.5 points.


Three things to watch…

  1. The Paul George Effect — George is one of the feel-good stories of the year, coming back from a devastating injury suffered over the summer during Team USA training to recuperate ahead of speed and become a totemic symbol for the “feel-good” year the Pacers have had thus far. What has yet to be proven is whether George is healthy enough to be a player worth coordinating your defense to stop. The Pacers are keeping George’s minutes limited (10-to-15 per game), but one has to wonder, with the playoffs in sight, if George is going to insist on doing his best impersonation of Willis Reed and drag Indiana over the finish line and into the second season.
  2. Mixing it Up — The lingering playoff ire that John Wall alluded to in his pregame comments is most likely to manifest itself in the frontcourt—with the combustible elements of David West, Roy Hibbert, Nene and Marcin Gortat heavily involved in the proceedings. West has the ability to get under the skin of most players with his and-1 exhortations and Nene’s continual bitching at the zebras garners him no love from opponents. It is imperative that the Wizards do not get caught up in the emotional vortex of an Indiana playoff push and earn any ill-advised technicals.
  3. Keep Feeding the Panda — After what seems like a season’s worth of false starts, Bradley Beal is finally operating at the usage rate that most prognosticators expected prior to the start of the season. Since the debacle against the Houston Rockets, Beal is averaging a shade under 20 shot attempts a game (although his 3-point attempts have noticeably not ticked up), and the Wizards offense has risen alongside his increased workload. A resurgent Beal (alongside an already ascendant Wall) is the Wizards’ best chance of making it out of the first round, so it would behoove Randy Wittman to keep Beal involved and not checked out.

  1. By opening up the roster in the latter part of the season Wittman allowed the cream (however curdled) to rise to the top. One only wonders why this stratagem was not applied in November. Desperate times…
  2. John Wall has gone on record as stating that the Wizards owe the Pacers “payback” for getting knocked out of the playoffs last year. So the Wizards could enter the Fieldhouse with some amount of fire and brimstone. I would just be happy if the Wizards paid back the Pacers for their earlier loss in March.
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Sean Fagan
Reporter / Writer/Gadfly at TAI
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Sean has contributed to TAI since the the dawn of Jan Vesely and has been on the Wizards beat since 2008. His work has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo and SI.com. He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.