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2014 NBA Playoffs: Wizards Vs. Pacers Preview

Law Murray |
May 7, 2014 | 10:47 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

One game into the series, John Wall has shown Washington could take the next step. (Twitter/@NBA)
One game into the series, John Wall has shown Washington could take the next step. (Twitter/@NBA)
After the best opening round of the NBA Playoffs ever, the second round is finally underway. In the Eastern Conference, the top-seed Indiana Pacers survived the eight-seed Atlanta Hawks in seven games to advance to the semifinals. They host the fifth-seed Washington Wizards, who upset the fourth-seed Chicago Bulls in five games to win only their second playoff series since 1982.

The Pacers looked vulnerable against the Hawks, losing twice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and lost Game 1 of this series in Indiana, 102-96. However, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel made season-preserving adjustments, cutting All-Star center Roy Hibbert's minutes while benching reserve wing Evan Turner and big man Luis Scola to advance to the second round.

The Wizards hadn't been to the postseason since the 2007-2008 season, but they looked like the more poised team on the floor in their short series against the Bulls. Washington won all three contests at Chicago's United Center, holding the Bulls to 69 points in the Game 5 series-clinching victory. 

The Pacers and Wizards have never met in the playoffs; in fact, this is the first time that both teams made the playoffs in the same season since 2005-2006. The two teams engaged in a brutal three-game regular season series, with neither team scoring 100 points. The Pacers won the first two matchups, home games in November (93-73) and January (93-66). However, the Wizards blew the Pacers out, 91-78, at the Verizon Center in March.

WIZARDS OFFENSE vs. PACERS DEFENSE

Perimeter: Washington's All-Star point guard John Wall serves as the Wizards' meal ticket on offense. His wingman, shooting guard Bradley Beal, showed that his stroke transcends the postseason, as he averaged 19.8 points per game against Chicago's strong defense. Wall is expected to get plenty of attention from Paul George. Washington will need Beal to keep up the scoring load. Indiana struggled at times defending the three, but Atlanta eventually shot themselves right out of the playoffs. The Wizards won't overdo it from three, but they're a still a jump-shooting team. They will need Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster to hit shots. Advantage: Pacers

Interior: Nene, Washington's starting power forward, was a bit of a surprise to some in the first round. He hit jumpers and dominated Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah at times. Washington chose to feature Nene more than they ever did, and Nene responded by averaging 17.8 points per game. Roy Hibbert was a fish out of water against Atlanta, but he matches up better against Washington's big front line. Even if Hibbert goes back in the tank, the Pacers have more than enough bodies to deal with Nene and Wizards center Marcin Gortat. Advantage: Pacers

Control: One advantage that the Wizards had when giving Nene more work in the first round was the ease it had on Wall's responsibilities as a playmaker. Wall showed impressive responsibility with the ball in his first playoff appearance, averaging a 2.83 assist/turnover ratio. The Pacers are a strong team defensively, but forcing turnovers isn't a priority. The Wizards also have a strong backup point guard in veteran Andre Miller. After watching Jeff Teague almost make himself famous, it is safe to say that Wall will find a way to frustrate the Pacers even more. Advantage: Wizards

WIZARDS DEFENSE vs. PACERS OFFENSE

Control: The Pacers are at a major disadvantage here. Wall is arguably the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, not just because of his precocious gifts as a scorer and playmaker, but because he can overwhelm as a defender. Ariza is also a ballhawk, and Beal is no slouch when it comes to pressure. George Hill doesn't turn the ball over much, but he is not asked to make plays either. Indiana is always prone to turnovers, and steals are the foundation of Washington's top-ten defense. Advantage: Wizards

Interior: While Hibbert was getting his Kendrick Perkins on (37 percent from the field in first round), Pacers power forward David West kept chugging along with reliable output. While West matched up well with Atlanta's Paul Millsap, he will be challenged by Nene and backup big man Trevor Booker. West may also see plenty of Gortat, a 6'11" sledgehammer who did well to anchor Washington's defense against the Bulls. The Wizards hit the boards hard, while the Pacers struggle in that department. It didn't hurt Indiana as much when Pero Antic was the adversary. Gortat and Nene are much harder to outrebound consistently. Hibbert needs to impose his will here. Advantage: Wizards

Perimeter: Paul George has had a lot to deal with, but he was fantastic in the first round, averaging 23.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.4 steals per game with great percentages. If he plays like that against Ariza, the Pacers will be in good shape. The problem is that Ariza and the Washington defense have made life tough for George this season, holding him to 16.7 points per game on a paltry 32.7 percent shooting from the field. It will be interested to see if George is relieved by the Indiana bench shooters, namely C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland. Those two combined to make 13-of-29 threes (45 percent) in the first round. The Wizards are good at defending the three, but every now and again they will have lapses. They allowed Bulls small forward Mike Dunleavy hit 8-of-10 threes in Chicago's Game 3 win, but Dunleavy hit only 4-of-16 threes outside of that game. Advantage: Wizards

WIZARDS SPECIAL TEAMS vs. PACERS SPECIAL TEAMS

Paul George was one of the few Pacers to step up against the Hawks. (Twitter/@IndyStar)
Paul George was one of the few Pacers to step up against the Hawks. (Twitter/@IndyStar)
A major advantage the Pacers may have in this series is the ability to make free throws. The Pacers shot 78 percent from the line this season, a top-ten mark, while the Wizards were in the bottom-ten at 73 percent. Nene is a major culprit for the Wizards, as he shot a terrible 3-for-10 in the first round. Wall's athleticism is going to stress the Pacers out in this series, though neither team has exceptionally swift big men. Both teams are going to comply with a slower game, so the moments of sprint will be notable. Washington also knows who will play off the bench in this series. One of Indiana's biggest problems coming into this series is the uncertainty of Indiana's role players. Scola should get back in the rotation and play well, but beyond that, all bets are off. Advantage: Draw/Pacers

COACHING

Frank Vogel had to sweat Atlanta out, but he has now won four out of seven playoff series in his career, the best mark for a Pacers coach since Larry Bird won seven of ten playoff series. Vogel has defeated Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman eight out of ten times since Wittman took over for Flip Saunders in 2012. Underestimating Wittman wouldn't be wise, however. Wittman's Wizards closed out a Chicago team coached by the highly-regarded Tom Thibodeau, and it wasn't just a case of personnel. Wittman ensured that his team would execute better than Chicago late in games. Advantage: Pacers

INTANGIBLES

Indiana has home-court advantage. Of course, that didn't stop them from losing two games at home to the Hawks, and Washington has three road playoff wins coming into the semifinals. Washington has a high level of experience, as Ariza (Lakers), Nene (Nuggets), and Gortat (Magic) have all been a part of teams that have made deep playoff runs. In addition, reserve big man Al Harrington was drafted out of high school by the Pacers in 1998, and Wittman is a product of Indiana. Washington's comfort level should be good. Indiana's is a grab bag. They deserve credit for pulling out of a 3-2 hole to win their first round series. But at the same time, who are these guys, really? Advantage: Draw/Wizards

BOTTOM LINE

Washington is essentially playing with house money in this series, having made it to the semifinals for the first time since 2005. They had a lot of unexpected time off to prepare for the second round, and they will be challenged by a desperate Pacers team led by George. It's tough to pull multiple upsets, but they can look to last year's Memphis Grizzlies to see that it can be done by playing gritty defense while riding hot waves. The Pacers welcome Washington's size and aversion to the free throw line. However, Indiana now has to deal with a dynamic backcourt in Wall and Beal. I don't question Indiana's toughness or will. I do question their ability and skill. I expect this series to go the distance, with few offensive highlights. But I expect the top pick of the 2010 NBA Draft (Wall) to lead his team in a Game 7 victory over the 10th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft (George). Wizards in 7.

Law Murray is an NBA and NFL journalist. For more on the NBA Playoffs, see his 2014 NBA Bandwagon Report and reach him on Twitter at @1maddskillz.



 

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