After a grueling seven game series with the Atlanta Hawks, the Indiana Pacers have advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals to face the Washington Wizards. The Pacers managed to overcome a horrible matchup, poor play, and questionable coaching in the first round to move on in the playoffs.
The Wizards were able to knock off the Chicago Bulls in five games. Their last game was Tuesday, giving Washington nearly a week off before heading to Indiana.
The Pacers starters will need every bit of rest they can get before Monday after putting in heavy minutes over the last two games of the Atlanta series. While many will say there are still a lot of issues with Indiana, a lot of those supposedly exposed flaws stem from the unique play of the Hawks.
Washington poses a much more favorable matchup for Indiana. The Pacers won the season series with the Wizards 2-1. Indiana won the first two games by a combined 47 points. Back in January, the Pacers held the Wizards to a season low 66 points. The lone Washington win came in March during the Pacers late season slump.
Washington, unlike Atlanta, doesn’t live and die at the three-point line. In fact, in the playoffs, the Wizards are averaging half as many three ball attempts as the Hawks. They also don’t run lineups with five players on the court who can all hit from range.
That means that Roy Hibbert should actually be effective for the entire series. He’ll be facing Marcin Gortat, a traditional center who will stay near the basket for most of the game. Gortat played well against Hibbert in two of the matchups during the regular season, recording double-double’s.
Hibbert didn’t exactly have stellar games against the Wizards this season, but he also wasn’t a liability like he was against the Hawks. The Pacers rely on Hibbert more for his defensive prowess, and will need him to defend the rim with the likes of John Wall driving into the lane.
Gortat and power forward Nene Hilario won’t be found out near the three-point like Atlanta’s Pero Antic or Paul Millsap. That will let Hibbert and David West (and even Luis Scola) stay in the front court where they are most effective.
If people thought Jeff Teague was a matchup problem for the Pacers, Wall is a completely different level. Wall averaged 19 points per game and nearly nine assists per game against the Bulls.
Much of the Pacers success against the Wizards during the regular season had to do with corralling Wall. In the two Pacers’ wins, Wall had just eight and 13 points, in the loss he had 20. George Hill is going to have his hands full with Wall, and we might see times where Paul George switches to try and slow down the Wizards’ floor general.
George struggled against the Wizards during the regular season. He averaged just under 17 points on 32-percent shooting. He’ll be up against Trevor Ariza, who also played poorly against the Pacers. Ariza was a mixed bag against the Bulls but he did have 30 points in game four.
The emergence of Bradley Beal will be a problem for the Pacers, and more specifically Lance Stephenson. Beal averaged 19.8 points against the Bulls and he hit 45-percent of his shots from the three-point line. Stephenson will have to limit his open looks and lock him down on the perimeter.
The Pacers can get back to what made them great in this series: tough, historic, suffocating defense. They have been trending back towards the team from November that was so dominant.
If the Pacers return to their defensive roots and play smart on offense, this will be a short series. It has always started on the defensive end for Indiana, and this series is no exception. The Wizards have a considerable amount of firepower and will make an opponent pay for their mistakes.
The Pacers turned over the ball 31 times in their two wins, but at this point in the season that is unacceptable. Turnovers kept the Hawks in a game seven that should have been much more one sided. They have to take better care of the ball and work for high percentage shots.
While the Pacers have been perplexing lately, they have shown signs of improvement. Whether it is Hibbert’s surprising performance, coach Frank Vogel finally making adjustments, or George hitting shots at an efficient level again, the Pacers are returning to early season form.
Washington presents some interesting problems and they have been playing extremely well lately. While the Bulls are a great defensive team, they can’t do anything at the offensive end of the court. Despite recent failings, the Pacers have scorers who will make this a competitive series.
Indiana takes the series in seven games.