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NBA Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. Washington Wizards

May 5, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

Roy Hibbert Roy Hibbert

SEASON RECORDS

Indiana Pacers: 56-26

Washington Wizards: 44-38

KEY INJURIES

Indiana Pacers: Andrew Bynum (out indefinitely, knee)

Washington Wizards: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Indiana Pacers: Offense 101.5 (22nd in the NBA), Defense 96.7 (1st in the NBA)

Washington Wizards: Offense 103.3 (18th in NBA), Defense 102.4 (10th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) How much can/will the Wizards stretch the Pacers?

The Hawks took Indiana to seven games by stretching the floor, pulling Roy Hibbert out of the paint and gunning 3-pointers.

That was Atlanta’s identity. It’s not exactly the Wizards’.

Washington’s four most-used bigs – Marcin Gortat, Nene, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin – lack range to shoot from the perimeter. And typically, the Wizards used two of them at a time.

In a first-round win over the Bulls, Gortat, Nene and Booker (Seraphin didn’t make the rotation) were Washington’s power forward-center combination 84 percent of the time. In the regular-season, the Wizards weren’t quite as dependent on a non-shooting PF-C combo, but they still used one 65 percent of the time.

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Fortunately for the Wizards, they have a couple bigs with shooting range on the roster: Al Harrington and Drew Gooden. Those two played together frequently, building a bit of chemistry and making them more effective in tandem Trevor Ariza can also play small-ball power forward.

So, the Wizards can definitely stretch the floor at times. The main question is how much they’re willing to alter their rotation to do it more.

Would Randy Wittman do something radical – staring Harrington and Gooden – and force the Pacers to make the adjustments they’re reluctant to make? Harrington and Gooden playing together at any point would wrinkle Indiana’s preferred scheme, but if they play together with Hibbert and a tradition power forward (David West or Luis Scola) in the game, it would go much further.

Wittman should deploy Harrington and Gooden primarily against Hibbert, but matching rotations could be difficult. Doing so to begin halves would be the simplest – and most daring – way to do it.

The Wizards might not have to go to such extreme measures, but the goal – stretching the floor – should play a big factor in this series.

2) Will the Pacers protect the ball?

The Pacers are not a good passing team, and the Wizards excelled at forcing turnovers during the regular season.

Against Chicago’s limited offense, the Wizards didn’t take quite as many chances going for turnovers. They just played sound defense and let the Bulls miss shots.

How will Washington approach the Pacers’ never-good, lately imploding offense? The question might be decided on the other end of the floor.

If the Wizards can score against Indiana’s once-stout defense, they can afford to lower variance defensively. If they can’t, they might need to go for turnovers and the fastbreak points steals generate – even if that strategy allows the Pacers more layups and dunks due to out-of-position defenders.

3) Have Roy Hibbert and the rest of the Pacers lost their mental edge?

Indiana finished the season with a 10-13 stretch and then struggled more than most expected in a first-round win over the Hawks. No Pacer has fallen harder than Hibbert, who went from All-Star to nearly benched.

But Vogel stuck with the center, and Hibbert rewarded that faith with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in a Game 7 win over Atlanta. Unquestionably, the Hawks were a bad matchup for Hibbert, but that doesn’t explain his second-half slide. It’s tough to say exactly where Hibbert stands entering this series.

Maybe rallying to win from down 2-1 and 3-2 to Atlanta has righted the Pacers’ ship. More likely, they remain fragile.

Where is Hibbert’s confidence? Where is Indiana’s? Where the answers fall on the spectrum could determine the series.

PREDICTION

For most of the season, the Pacers were the better team. But it matters only which is better now.

Wizards in 7

  1. void96eater - May 5, 2014 at 3:06 PM

    Wizards will most likely split the first two games.

  2. phillysports1 - May 5, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    Wizards in 5.

  3. capspats - May 5, 2014 at 3:12 PM

    Wiz in six in front of their fans

  4. aboogy123456 - May 5, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    Wall needs to put a ton of pressure on Hill and try to hound him all game. Hill can’t control the ball and Wall has the quickness and ability to play pressure D. That will make it hard for the Pacers to start their offense, and if Ariza can slow down George then I don’t see how the Pacers would win.

  5. antistratfordian - May 5, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    Wizards in 7? Hmmm. If the Wizards are going to advance they’re probably going to have to do it in 6 or less. Picking an inexperienced team to win on the road in a game 7 is too audacious for my blood.

    • kinggw - May 5, 2014 at 4:48 PM

      The Wizards aren’t that inexperienced. Ariza, Gortat, Nene, Andre Miller, Harrington and Gooden are seasoned vets.

      • antistratfordian - May 5, 2014 at 5:45 PM

        Right, but out of that group only Gortat has won a Game 7. And this is the first time Andre Miller has been to the 2nd round, so he doesn’t have much playoff experience at all. Same with Nene – this is only his 2nd time making it out of the first round.

        But I’m really thinking mostly about John Wall and Bradley Beal – the guys who take most of the shots for their team. But specifically John Wall. He’s their star and he has no experience at all.

    • zoomy123 - May 5, 2014 at 7:34 PM

      I’m tempted to agree with you, which is why I picked Indiana to beat Atlanta and advance. However, the Pacers are playing so bad and the Wizards have the playmakers that the Hawks don’t. It’s more than possible for the Wizards to beat Indiana in game 7 on the road–it’ll be tough, but not inconceivable.

      • antistratfordian - May 5, 2014 at 9:38 PM

        If they are playing “so bad” then there shouldn’t be a 7th game. A 7th game would mean that the Pacers have beaten the Wizards 3 times in 6 games, which isn’t that bad.

        So I’d still have to go with the more experienced home team in a game 7 in this series.

        The Wizards have to do it in 6 or less – and it looks like they’re off to a good start.

  6. eugenesaxe1 - May 5, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    Seeing the Wiz in the ECF would be a wonderful thing.

  7. azarkhan - May 5, 2014 at 3:57 PM

    Pacers in 6.

  8. thekingdave - May 5, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    Need bar and line graphs or no credibility.

  9. 12444uggg - May 5, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    Pacers in 6. Look for the D to establish the tempo.

  10. irvness21 - May 5, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    Get the Indiana bigs in foul trouble and thats how you beat them. Feed the post. Gortat and Nene should touch the ball early and often in the first quarter. Take the pressure to Hibbert and West. The Wiz can win this series but it wont be as easy as some people suggest.

    • jkirby317 - May 5, 2014 at 4:30 PM

      Pacers in 4. You heard it here first.

    • void96eater - May 5, 2014 at 9:44 PM

      Wizards won game 1.

  11. money2long - May 5, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    Pacers advance again.

  12. doc305 - May 5, 2014 at 5:24 PM

    if this series goes to 7, you have to give it to the home team. I think the game will be decided in 6…the pacers are the better team…. just not in the last month.

  13. sire2334 - May 5, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    I just hope it’s an entertaining series either way, but Im going Wiz kids in 6. Regardless of who wins they’re going to the finals though. If Indiana wins It’ll mean they have their groove back, and if Washington wins, I think they can outrun the Heat. Wiz and Heat know each other and the Wiz aren’t intimidated at all.

  14. bucrightoff - May 5, 2014 at 5:41 PM

    Does it matter? The Eastern Conference Finals is Brooklyn and Miami.

    • casualcommenter - May 5, 2014 at 7:12 PM

      …Actually, the Eastern Conference SEMI-finals is between Brooklyn and Miami. That series will be starting this week.

      Only one of those teams can reach the Eastern Conference Finals…

      • ibleedaquaorange - May 5, 2014 at 10:41 PM

        He means the winner of Brooklyn/Miami is ultimately representing the East, not that it’s literally the EC Finals…

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