After slow starts, both the Pacers (29-26) and the Wizards (33-21) have looked much better of late. Since Christmas, the Wizards are 19-5 (second only to Golden’ State’s 19-4), and have been at least top 6 in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks per game, and offensive rating, defensive rating, true shooting percentage. The Pacers (losers of their last four) haven’t been as gaudy, but considering they started the season 15-16, going 14-10 and appearing in the top 10 in offensive rating, net rating, and three point percentage since December 25th is a definite sign of growth. Both squads come into Thursday’s showdown looking to roll into All Star weekend on a high note.
I don’t know squat, so I brought in the experts; the Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps and Ben Gibson of 8 Points 9 Seconds to breakdown game 1 of the first half finale.
What’s keyed the resurgence of these two Eastern conference foes? Besides the obvious All Stars, John Wall and Paul George, which players for both teams have been most instrumental in the turnarounds?
Washington has been led by it’s starting lineup. Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat have been one of the NBA’s best lineups, period, this season. Beal has played like an All-Star (most importantly remaining healthy), Porter is leading the league in three-point shooting, and Gortat and Wall are one of the league’s best pick-and-roll combinations.
Indiana has gotten good production from Jeff Teague (15 points and nine assists a night since Christmas) to go along with it’s inside-out combo of George and second-year big man Myles Turner. Indiana has still struggled defensively, but have been able to make up for that with an impressive offense overall.
For Washington, Otto Porter going from merely fitting in to knocking down shot after shot has been big for them. Throw in a healthy and playing every night Bradley Beal, and suddenly the Wizards offense isn’t slowing them down. Their defense could use work, but they have a team that can win on any night. It is no longer just the John Wall show.
For Indiana, Jeff Teague started to become the player the Pacers hoped for when they traded him. When Indiana played some of their best basketball this season in January, he averaged 9.8 assists a game. As much as I love George Hill, Teague’s added a dimension to the offense that has been lacking in recent years. Throw in Myles Turner’s jump from being a rookie center to now a pretty damn good one and you’ve got a core worth building around. Back to Turner real quick. He may not get the same love as Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns, but they should all be in the same conversation. Turner is starting to thrive and become a leader for the Pacers both in the stats and in the huddle.
The turn of fortune for both teams have corresponded with their respective stars, Paul George (almost 25-7-4 in his last 11 games) and John Wall (about 24-4-11 with 2 steals a game over the last month), both turning it on in recent weeks. As currently constructed, which team seems primed to make more noise in the playoffs?
Tim: To me, Washington is far more likely to make a run than Indiana. The Wizards, as stated above, have one of the league’s best lineups, also have proven to have a huge home court advantage this season and are on pace for a top four seed in the East. The Pacers, while they’ve been impressive of late, are likely to be an underdog to get even out of the first round.
Ben: Reluctantly, the Wizards. Indiana is still sorting out issues with their bench and deep rotation, while Washington looks more ready to hunker down for the playoffs. The Pacers have the talent to be interesting, but as we’ve seen all season, they also can bottom out and look like a sub .500 teams when things go wrong. Ask me again in a month.
The Wizards (32-21) are breathing down the Celtics’ neck for the 2 seed, and the Pacers (29-25) are a mere 2.5 games back of the reeling Raptors for the 4 seed. There’s plenty of season left, but this game can have playoff ramifications. How do you see this game playing out?
Tim: The Pacers will be the home team, but will also be coming off a game the night before in Cleveland against the defending champion Cavaliers. Washington has struggled on the road at times this season, but after beating the Pacers last week, I’m going to say the Wizards go into the All-Star break on a high note with a win in Indianapolis. I see this game being a close one, though, either way.
Ben: The Pacers play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday and then the Washington Wizards on Thursday. Unless the Cavaliers pull away and the starters rest, I give Washington the advantage on Thursday. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Pacers win, even in the Phonebooth where Paul George often plays well, but this is a rough SEGABABA in the middle of a rough schedule. I’m picking the Wizards to pull away late, but these two teams are very close on a talent level, so I don’t think it is a scheduled loss for the Pacers, but it won’t be easy.
The Wizards and Pacers tip off at 7:00 pm EST on Thursday, February 16th.