Wizards face major road test in Indiana


(Associated Press)

INDIANAPOLIS – After the Washington Wizards defeated the New Orleans Pelicans, 102-96, on Wednesday to claim their sixth road win in seven tries, Nene huddled with John Wall in the locker room and discussed the identity the team is beginning to develop in visiting arenas.

“I was just telling John, when you play on the road and fans stay quiet, stay shy, it’s good for who’s coming to play on the court,” Nene said. “We did really good. We played hard in the first half. We put a lot of points on the board.”

In their past two road wins over Charlotte and New Orleans, the Wizards have built huge double-digit leads but needed to make big plays down the stretch to secure the win. The Bobcats chopped a 17-point lead down to seven before Bradley Beal made a jumper and Martell Webster hit a three-pointer, and the Pelicans trailed by 23 before making a serious run to get within six before Trevor Ariza made a three-pointer to secure the win.

“We made a couple mistakes, we relax a little bit and against a good team, they can take advantage of that kind of moment,” Nene said. “They can flip the game.”

The Wizards will actually go up against “a good team” on Friday, when they take on the Indiana Pacers. Indiana (29-7) has the league’s best record and has won 11 straight games over Washington at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, including a 93-73 win on Nov. 29. So the Wizards will have a hard time extending their road winning streak to four games.

“We’ve got to worry about ourselves,” Beal said. “We know they’re a great team and that they’re a physical team and that’s one thing we need to do. We have to hit them first and continue to hit them because it’s going to be a lot of contact and a lot of bodying going on. But we’ve got to keep our heads, stay confident and continue to do what got us here in the first place.”

The Wizards will also have to solve a problem that has been plaguing them throughout the season — an inability to defeat quality opponents. They are 1-12 this season against with records greater than or equal to .500, with their only victory coming at home against the Atlanta Hawks. Seven of those losses have been by at least 10 points.

“It’s tough,” Wall said. “Last year, it was a different story. We’d win those games against the top teams. But you can’t worry about it. You just have to go out and play basketball and win those games. I just feel like if we play the same way we’ve been playing, and be consistent, we have a chance against anybody.”

Washington is 0-5 on the road against teams that are .500 or better. And Beal said “there is no room for error” against the Pacers, who have one home loss in 18 games this season.

“We just got to stay aggressive and not get caught up in what they’re capable of doing,” Beal said. “We should just play our game and play the right way.”

Nene sat out the previous game against Indiana because of soreness in his Achilles’ tendon and the Wizards trailed by 25 points in the second half. Indiana held the Wizards without any fastbreak points, outrebounded them 49-31, and held them to just 40.8 percent shooting.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Nene said. “We need to play physical with them, they will play physical. So everybody need to be prepared and play hard. At the end of the game, if we play more hard, we win.”

Wall averaged 22 points on 58.6 percent in his first two games in Indiana as a rookie but has been held in check in his past two games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In his second season, he scored 13 points on 4 of 9 shooting. Last season, he missed both games while recovering from a left knee injury. And he scored just eight points on on 4 of 14 shooting in the previous meeting.

“If you’re physical with those guys, you have a chance to win those games,” Wall said. “If you’re not physical and they attack you in the post or the paint, you can it call it goodnight.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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