Opening Statements 53: Wizards vs Pacers — Buckle Up, Again | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements 53: Wizards vs Pacers — Buckle Up, Again

Updated: February 10, 2017

Washington Wizards at Indiana Pacers - Nov. 10, 2012

As soon as you thought the Wizards were immune to Wizardry, they Wizard-ed. They went to overtime with the Brooklyn Nets — worst team in the league, losers now of 11 in a row, and the only NBA team still with single-digit wins — and the Wizards won! There are moral victories and there are immoral victories.

Have you ever taken a nap, and then woken up from that nap, and instead of feeling refreshed it feels like the morning after a night of heavy drinking? Except it’s just a nap on a Sunday afternoon, maybe after running errands — it’s the dreaded napover. And not to equate Monday night’s matchup with Cleveland with slumber, but it was a dream performance, and it could have gone either way. What it did was awaken the Wizards to their potential, and so a visit to Brooklyn on Wednesday became their napover.

You can have your trap game, which much of the internet seems to define as overlooking a presumed inferior opponent before facing a top-notch opponent. (Not necessarily after, but what’s the difference?)

The Wizards weren’t on national television. They were instead playing in a dead Brooklyn arena on YES Network. The Knicks are bad, and the Lakers are bad — but I almost guarantee that games on the home courts of those teams would not have led to a Wizards napover (or a trap). New York and Los Angeles are cities where parties happen. Brooklyn is little brother, still New Jersey in the minds of most, I suppose. The Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez Nets team happened back when the Dutch settled Brooklyn, I believe. Who could remember, who could forget.

But the Wizards won, maintaining a record of 10 games over .500 (70 games over .500 in Wizards Dog Years). And, as TAI’s Conor Dirks wrote, “On the road to the playoffs, these wins need winning, too.”

Watching the Comcast post-game show, I found Scott Brooks’ comments interesting. He wasn’t buying into that trap-game cliché. To paraphrase, Brooks told the media that it wasn’t that his team took the Nets lightly — the Wizards knew Brooklyn had lost 10 in a row, they knew they lost a close one in Charlotte the night before, they knew they were hungry. Brooks’ players were prepared, he insisted. No, it came down to execution, according to the coach, i.e., his players didn’t do their jobs.

And participation trophy-seekers used to do some hand-wringing when Randy Wittman spoke about #EffortMetrics and his players’ inability to calibrate. This is the same thing, and Brooks is right. And Wittman was often right. The difference being Brooks’ flexibility and nuanced approach to managing his locker room versus Wittman’s old-school stubbornness.

This brings us to tonight’s game against the Indiana Pacers — the first of two (final) meetings between these teams over the next week before the All-Star break (sandwiching Monday’s game versus the Thunder on TNT).

Hovering around .500 all season until breaking free after a home loss to Charles Oakley’s Knicks on Jan. 23, the Pacers have actually been on a roll since Dec. 30, 2016. Since then, the Warriors (3 losses) and the Wizards (5 losses) are tied for the league lead in wins with 16. Indiana is right there with 14 (7 losses), keeping pace with San Antonio and Utah.

You think the Wizards have been clutch? The Pacers are 9-1 in clutch-time games during the aforementioned span, while Washington is 8-5. Nate McMillan’s team is stifling opponents in these late-game situations, allowing a DefRtg of just 74.9 (113.1 OffRtg), while the Wizards are simply outscoring opponents (115.6 Ortg to 104.9 Drtg).

Two days before this magical Pacers timespan, they lost, 105-111, to the Wizards in D.C., dropping their record to 15-18, and putting the Wizards one game on the south side of .500. The Verizon Center actually showed signs of life that night — John Wall took over after Bradley Beal went out at half with a sprained ankle. In the other locker room, meanwhile, the Pacers were doing some soul-searching (as so aptly covered by TAI’s Adam Rubin).

Of course, this happened after the Wizards lost in Indiana 10 days prior in a shooting-your-own-foot heartbreaker. Brooks drew up a great play to get Beal a potential game-winning 3-pointer, and he missed — wide open.

Now the Pacers are 29-23, having won seven in a row before losing to Cleveland by 15 points in Indiana on Wednesday. (The Cavs responded to their narrow win over the Wizards with a near-blowout, you see.)

So what has changed for Indiana?

To answer, we turned to friends of the internet and Twitter machine. First, the Miller Time Podcast (@MillerTimePod):

1) Paul George has really picked up his game (he had a ‘morning of refreshment’ in London, detailed by USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt here).

2) Their schedule was full of cupcakes during that stretch.

And additional insight from 8 Points, 9 Seconds (@8pts9secs):

After all the injuries and lineup changes to start the season, the Indiana Pacers finally found one that worked. Taking a smaller, non-defensive shooting guard in Monta Ellis and replacing him with a bigger defender (Glenn Robinson III, then later C.J. Miles) helped Indiana to play better defense, which led to the offense being able to focus more and get in rhythm.

It also took time for the team to find stability. Jeff Teague, the new point guard, finally got going, Lavoy became reliable again, and team (Paul George in particular) got better about driving to the rim and finishing. The bench now needs to find stability when everyone is healthy again, so they are still a work in progress.

There is every reason to buckle up tonight — a nationally televised game on ESPN and two playoff teams currently separated by two games (WAS 3-seed, IND 6-seed). Yes, they’d meet if we knew that an asteroid would hit our planet in six weeks and the NBA said, ‘Let’s start the playoffs today, one last time!’

Also: Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, and Marcin Gortat still remain from the 2014 second round playoff series with the Pacers that Washington lost 4-2. On Indy’s side: just Paul George and Lavoy Allen. Oh, and Kevin Seraphin and Ian Mahinmi have switched places — a welcome development.

Let’s get Wizard.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.