Win or go home. It’s pretty simple on Thursday night for the Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards. By virtue of finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference, Pacers were forced into the #9 vs. #10 game and then would have to play the loser of the #7 vs. #8 game. That loser was the Wizards.
A date with the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs awaits. Washington is -3 back at Capital One Arena for this one with a total of 237.5 at Bookmaker Sportsbook. Can the Wizards bounce back from a terrible second half to stay alive or will the Pacers rattle off another big win with their backs against the wall?
Let’s answer those questions and any others you might have with this preview.
One hundred forty-four points. Sometimes you just have to spell it out. The Pacers scored 144 points in their blowout win over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night. It seems pretty likely that the Pacers will not shoot 55.2% from the floor for a second straight game, but you never know, as Washington’s claim to fame is hardly on the defensive side.
Domantas Sabonis had 14 points and 21(!!) rebounds in the winning effort for the Pacers, who had 54 rebounds to just 36 for the Hornets. Every Pacers starter got into double digits and so did three guys off the bench. It was a shooting quality from everywhere, as Indiana was 42-of-70 on twos and 16-of-35 on threes.
The Pacers weren’t exactly a great offensive team during the regular season. They do play at one of the fastest paces in the NBA, but wound up 13th in eFG% offense. They were actually seventh in eFG% defense. The Pacers don’t take a lot of threes on offense, which is why they had a lower eFG% than other teams.
Indiana was second in percentage of field goal attempts within three feet, so they get to the rim and take a lot of close shots. The unfortunate thing is that they ranked 23rd in FG% from inside three feet during the regular season. High-percentage shot attempts are great, but you still have to make them. Because they didn’t make enough of them, they were a play-in tournament team.
The Pacers actually finished the regular season sixth in 2P% defense. As bad as they were at converting their close shots into points, they finished with the #1 defense in FG% on shots of three feet or fewer. Give. Take. Story for a lot of NBA teams this season.
So, how does that style of play for Indiana match up with Washington? Well, the Wizards don’t take a high rate of threes. They had the highest FGA% from 3-10 feet in the NBA by a large margin, so they aren’t getting a ton of dunks and layups, but are getting a lot of shots down around the post or in the key. They were also far and away the most efficient team in the NBA at making those shots at 51.5%. Nobody else was higher than 47%.
The Celtics were really effective in taking that shot away in the 8/9 game. Russell Westbrook was just 6-of-18 shooting and missed all four threes that he took. Bradley Beal was 10-of-25 from the floor and just 1-of-6 from three. The Wizards were only 3-of-21 on threes and no player made more than one. Beal was the only starter to make one. Davis Bertans went 0-for-7 on his attempts.
Washington doesn’t light it up from three to begin with, but this was a new level of bad for them. A similar shooting performance and they’ll be out of the playoffs. A return to normalcy, especially for Beal and Westbrook, and we could see them advance and maybe do so in a big way in this game.
The Pace of this game will be quick. Indiana ranked fourth in Pace and the Wizards ranked first and did so by a large margin per Basketball-Reference. Indiana does take better care of the basketball and also forces a higher rate of turnovers, so that merits watching as well.
Pacers vs. Wizards Free Pick
The total has been bet down here, which makes sense. It will be a fast-paced game, but also there is no tomorrow and those stakes typically tighten up a game a little bit. With that in mind, a game played to a little bit slower of a pace should benefit the team with more star power because those guys will be taking a higher percentage of the shots. That team here is the Wizards, who should win and cover to move forward in the playoffs.
Pick: Washington Wizards