Wizards still in fight for sixth, but seventh doesn’t look so scary with Indiana reeling


What’s going on with you guys? (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

For most of the season, the Wizards’ safe zone for the best chance to win a playoff series was anywhere between third and sixth. Avoid the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers and take your chances with the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls or Brooklyn Nets.

“We want to keep our seed or go up. We don’t want to go down,” John Wall said recently.

The Wizards (40-37) are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference and will need to defeat the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday if they have any plans of holding on to that spot. A loss would give the Bobcats (39-38) the tiebreaker in their season series if the teams finish with the same record.

In the past few weeks, however, the seventh seed doesn’t seem so daunting given that the Pacers have lost eight of 11 and now trail the Heat by one game for first place in the conference.

The Pacers (53-25) were so dominant leading up to the all-star break and has enough talent and experience to assume they won’t remain in a funk once the postseason begins.

But the dysfunction reached an alarming new low during a humiliating 107-88 home loss on Sunday to the Atlanta Hawks in which former Georgetown center Roy Hibbert got benched for the entire second half. Mind you, the Hawks had lost 21 of 28 to plummet to the eighth seed and were without reserve Lou Williams – and still led Indiana by 34 points in the first half.

Hibbert, who has verbalized his frustrations about ‘selfish’ play in the past month, put all zeros in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in nine minutes. Indiana Coach Frank Vogel explained afterward that he wanted to rest Hibbert because “he looks to be worn down.”

The Pacers won the season series against the Wizards, claiming the first two games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – where Washington has lost 12 straight – by a combined 47 points. But the Wizards hammered. Indiana, 91-78, when the teams met at Verizon Center on March 28.

Among the four possible playoff opponents, Indiana has the worst record since March 4 at 7-12. Brooklyn is 13-5, Chicago is 12-5 and Toronto is 12-6.

The Wizards have gone 9-8 over that span and probably don’t have an ideal first-round matchup. They lost three of four against Toronto, with the one victory coming in triple-overtime. They beat Chicago, 2-1, but the Bulls demolished them on Saturday, building a 28-point lead in the first half. They swept three games from Brooklyn but the first game was decided in overtime and the other two victories were also close.

Pacers forward David West said his team looks “vulnerable” after the loss to Washington. Indiana has lost four of five since then, with three of the losses by double-digits. After the Hawks loss, West told reporters in Indiana, “Let’s see what people are saying about us in 3 ½, 4 weeks. I’m of the opinion that this is good for us. We needed to be humbled. Maybe we’ll be better now that we’ve been backed into a corner.”

 

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