NBA: Washington Wizards at Indiana Pacers

Round 2 Preview: Pacers (1) vs Wizards (5)

Quick turnarounds in the NBA mean quick turnarounds on Pacers Pulse.

After finally edging the Atlanta Hawks in 7 hard-fought games yesterday, the Indiana Pacers will kick off their second round series against the Washington Wizards tomorrow at 7pm at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

This is a really hard series to pick. The Wizards are better than I thought they would be, demolishing the Chicago Bulls in just 5 games despite not having home court advantage. The Pacers, on the other hand, were worse than I expected, and then better, and then worse, and then better again. Their final 92-80 win over the Hawks was the first time all series that it looked like a first seed vs eighth seed match-up, and it was in fact the first time team’s regular rotation won back-to-back games since mid-March (they did win their last two games of the season, but the final game against the Magic was mainly reserves). It was also the first time in forever that Roy Hibbert did not look like absolute garbage out there, so perhaps there is cause for optimism.

On the other hand, taking into account the overall form of the two teams heading into the series, you can’t deny that the Wizards ought to have the edge, with or without home court advantage, something the Pacers squandered in games 1 and 5 against the Hawks.

So how will the series play out?

Schedule

Game 1 - Mon, May 5
Wizards
@
Pacers
7:00 PM
Game 2 – Wed, May 7
Wizards
@
Pacers
7:00 PM
Game 3 – Fri, May 9
Pacers
@
Wizards
8:00 PM
Game 4 – Sun, May 11
Pacers
@
Wizards
8:00 PM
Game 5 – Tue, May 13
Wizards
@
Pacers
TBD
Game 6 – Thu, May 15
Pacers
@
Wizards
TBD
Game 7 – Sun, May 18
Wizards
@
Pacers
TBD

Matchups

Pacers:
Roy Hibbert
PF David West
SF Paul George
SG Lance Stephenson
PG George Hill

Reserves: Luis Scola, Evan Turner, CJ Watson, Ian Mahinmi, Rasual Butler, Donald Sloan, Chris Copeland, Lavoy Allen, Solomon Hill, Andrew Bynum*
*Has not played since March 15 and is out indefinitely.

Wizards:
Marcin Gortat
PF Nene Hilaro
SF Trevor Ariza
SG Bradley Beal
PG John Wall

Reserves: Martell Webster, Drew Gooden, Trevor Booker, Andre Miller, Al Harrington, Kevin Seraphin, Garrett Temple, Jan Vesely, Otto Porter, Glen Rice Jr

Analysis

The three regular season games played between the two teams don’t really provide any insight. The two games in Indiana were both Pacers blowouts, in November and January, when the Pacers were rolling and the Wizards were trying to figure out who they were. They also didn’t have Nene in the first game. The third game in DC in late March was a different story and a blowout in the other direction. By then the Wizards had figured out their identity and the Pacers had lost theirs.

Right now it’s difficult to figure out where both teams are at. I thought the Bulls, with their defense and experience, would easily take care of the Wizards  in 5. I couldn’t have been more wrong as the Wizards won the first two games in Chicago and closed it out in 5, with Nene perhaps being the most impressive standout in the series. But in hindsight, it became apparent that Joakim Noah was battling an injury (he just had minor knee surgery), and I should have know better because the Bulls had to rely on DJ Augustin of all people for points. The Wizards just had too many weapons.

As for the Pacers, we still don’t know what they are. Were their struggles against the Hawks due to mental weakness, poor chemistry or match-up problems? Or all of the above? Did the game 7 win wake a sleeping giant, or was it yet another anomaly, another bit of the false hope they’ve been giving fans for months? Has Roy Hibbert finally snapped out of his funk, or was his performance in game 7 a fluke?

We can speculate, but no one really knows the answers to any of these questions. What we do know is that the Hawks had outside-shooting big men in Paul Millsap and Pero Antic who threw the Pacers’ traditional defensive schemes completely out of whack by forcing Hibbert and David West to venture outside the paint. Against the Wizards, in particular Nene and Gortat, the Pacers can go back to what they do best, which is to protect the rim and force up contested twos. It will at least make them more comfortable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be effective. Much of it will depend on Hibbert’s fragile mental state and Ian Mahinmi staying out of foul trouble. And will Andrew Bynum, who was ruled out against the entire Hawks series, make an appearance? After practice today Pacers coach Frank Vogel said there was “no update” on Bynum. Maybe they’re saving him for Miami, or maybe he won’t play another game for the Pacers.

And if the Pacers had trouble staying in front of Jeff Teague, imagine what John Wall will do to them. He basically has Teague’s speed and quickness, but he’s also bigger, stronger, and a better passer. Wall struggled to get into the lane against the Pacers in the regular season, averaging just 13.7 points on 34% shooting, but that was when the Pacers defense was at an all-time great level and Wall didn’t have the confidence he does now. With the inconsistent George Hill being exposed defensively by Teague in the first round, expect Paul George to spend some time trying to guard his good friend and fellow dunk comp contestant in this series.

Conversely, George has also struggled against the Wizards on the offensive end. PG averaged just 16.7 points on just 32.7% shooting and appears to struggle with the experience and length of Trevor Ariza. That said, PG is playing some superstar basketball right now, putting up six double-doubles in 7 playoff games and averaging 23.9 points and 10.7 rebounds overall.

So if we assume the two star players on either team are going to struggle a little bit, then the series could very well be decided by everyone else. For the Wizards, the key will be Bradley Beal, who led the team in scoring against the Bulls with an average of 19.8 points. Frank Vogel even recently called Beal and Wall the “best young backcourt in the NBA.” Beal will likely be matched up against Lance Stephenson or George Hill, and I actually like the match-up against Hill better for the Pacers. Lance struggled to keep tabs on Kyle Korver on the perimeter, whereas Hill eventually figured out how to stick to his man like glue. That said, unlike Korver, Beal can also take his man off the dribble, so either way he will create problems for the Pacers.

The other key is the front court of Nene and Gortat. Nene has a 2-inch height advantage over David West and likes to bang, so that will be a fantastic physical contest between the two, though I hope for Nene’s sake he doesn’t try to headbutt West like he did against Jimmy Butler. Gortat is really effective and could be a handful for Hibbert, especially if the latter’s game hasn’t turned the corner yet. The major positive for the Pacers is that while both Wizards big men are decent mid-range shooters they don’t shoot threes.

For the Pacers, the obvious key is to get Hibbert involved and for George Hill to stay aggressive. When these two guys are on their games the Pacers are just about unstoppable, though it’s a shame that they rarely are. We know what we’re going to get with West and we know Lance will bring it, so the other key is the bench. Vogel staggered his lineups towards the end of the Hawks series to give Chris Copeland minutes and completely shutting down Evan Turner and Luis Scola. Against the more traditional Wizards, one would have to assume that both Turner and Scola will be back in the rotation. Scola had a couple of big games for the Pacers in the first round and will need his mid-range touch to stay in the game. Turner only had a few solid sequences and was otherwise a non-factor, but I still have confidence that he can bring some versatility and scoring to the second unit. To be honest I think he did OK against the Hawks, at least on the offensive end. In any case, even if Turner and Scola are back, I’d still like to see some Copeland out there. I think he’s earned a few minutes.

Prediction

If you asked me before the Pacers played games 6 and 7 against the Hawks whether they’d stand a chance in the second round I would have said, “Hell no.” But they showed they could handle adversity when their backs are against the wall, scraping home in game 6 with some clutch plays down the stretch then taking care of business in game 7. So maybe they do have a shot here.

Both Frank Vogel and Paul George said the tough Hawks series was a blessing in disguise, and I agree. Frank talked about how the series “heightened” the team’s “alertness”, while PG said it helped “raise our antennae and sharpen us up.”

The Pacers needed a bit of a test to wake themselves up from a horrible stretch that has gone on for far too long (and might very well be continuing). Against any other team participating in these playoffs the struggling Pacers probably would have been swept in the first round, but thankfully the unorthodox Hawks, without Al Horford and living and dying by the three, aren’t that great. So it allowed the Pacers to sharpen their chemistry, get their acts together, and gather some much-needed rhythm and momentum. Theoretically.

Having said all that, the Pacers haven’t exactly played well enough to regain our trust. They can talk all they want, as they did after victories in games 2 and 4 (and stretching back to key victories at the end of the regular season), but it means nothing unless they actually prove it on the floor on a consistent basis.

That’s why game 1 will be crucial. The Pacers said they don’t want to lose home court advantage immediately again like they did against the Hawks, so we can assume they will come out sharper and play harder than they did in round one. But the Wizards have been resting for a week and would be much fresher and have had much more time to prepare. So it’s a toss up at this stage for me, but I do think whoever wins game 1 will probably win the series.

My head says Wizards in 6, but my heart says Pacers in 7.

Predictions for other series

I was horrible in predicting the other series in the first round. I picked Toronto, Chicago and Houston, who all lost, and the only series where I predicted the right number of games was Clippers vs Warriors. So what I am trying to say is that I don’t know anything, but that won’t stop me from predicting the second round.

Miami (2) vs Brooklyn (6) — Miami in 6 — Brooklyn went 4-0 against the Heat in the regular season but it’s not going to mean anything now. I do admit the Nets don’t fear the Heat and present match-up problems, but it doesn’t mean they have what it takes to overcome LeBron. By the way, the Heat’s form is also suspect because they were struggling at the end of the season before sweeping a Bobcats team that effectively didn’t have Al Jefferson, or at least an effective Al Jefferson. I can hope for a Nets victory but if I’m a betting man I’d have to go with the champs. I just hope they can at least take some mileage out of Dwyane Wade’s knees.

San Antonio (1) vs Portland (5) – San Antonio in 7 — just have too much respect for LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard after that series win over Houston to think they’d just roll over against the experienced Spurs. But Lillard is going to have some problems on the defensive end against Tony Parker, Manu appears to be old Manu again, and Duncan is going to be Duncan. Hard to bet against the Spurs, especially with home court advantage.

Oklahoma City (2) vs Clippers (3) – OKC in 6 — the two teams split the season series, but with Chris Paul hobbling and Kevin Durant on a mission you just have to think that the Thunder will come out on top.

Quantcast