The Wizards have had limited talent for the entire season, but now they also have limited depth, making it tough to maintain a sustained effort these days. And their past two losses against Milwaukee and Indiana were examples of the challenge they face without starters Nene and Trevor Booker. Because no matter how hard they play, they simply don’t have enough scoring, energy or options to stay with playoff contenders very long.
Indiana relied mostly on 10 players on Wednesday, while the Wizards used nine of an available 10 guys during their 109-96 loss at Verizon Center. But while the Pacers leaned on their 10 best players — including a few reserves who could easily start for the Wizards — Coach Randy Wittman had to go with what was left.
“I just think they’re depleted,” said Pacers Coach Frank Vogel, a former Wizards advance scout. “They have injuries and they have youth, and it’s tough to win in the NBA in situations like that. We’ve got a veteran group that’s dialed in to a tight playoff race.”
As Vogel constantly shuffled in fresh reserves the moment his starters looked winded, Wittman had stay with his guys a little bit longer even if they were dragging a bit. Despite letting the Pacers shoot 87.5 percent in the first period, the Wizards were able to hang around in the first half, becasue Jordan Crawford was more than willing to carry the load offensively.
But after trailing by only one point at halftime, the Wizards sank in the third quarter, when the Pacers had six different players score at least four points and shot 72.7 percent. The Wizards were outscored 34-23 in the period, offering a performance reminiscent of their breakdown two days previous against Milwaukee.
“It hurt us. We don’t have many options to go to in the third or fourth quarter,” said Crawford, who scored just seven of his 28 points in the second half. “We get tired and they can just sub in a whole new five. It cost us, but we should be able to play through it.”
Crawford made a stepback jumper to give the Wizards a 61-60 lead with 8:30 left in the third period, but the Pacers outscored them 16-6 over the next four minutes — and then Vogel put in more reinforcements. Reserve forward Tyler Hansbrough hit back-to-back jumpers to put Indiana ahead, 84-71, and the lead expanded to 21 in the fourth quarter.
“To come in at halftime where we were, I was really pleased, especially with the way they were shooting the ball,” Wittman said. “Then they came out in the third quarter and really kind of hit us, staggered us a little bit.”
The Pacers were playing the second of back-to-back games, but they were also buoyed by an inspirational performance the night before, as they overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Knicks. They brought their hot shooting hand from that fourth-quarter rally to Washington, made 10 of their first 11 shots against the Wizards and hit on 57.9 percent for the game — the best shooting percentage of any Wizards opponent this season.
“I know a lot of teams is fighting, especially a team like Indiana, somebody that’s trying to get a better seed in the playoffs. They came back from 17 down and coming on a back-to-back, you’ve got to come out and punch first and that’s what they did, they hit us in the mouth,” Wall said. “In the third and fourth quarter, fatigue wore us down and they took the game away.”