Which team do you think is a better matchup for us, Indiana or Atlanta? (AP)
While Washington Wizards and NBA fans alike will likely tune into Thursday’s Game 6 between Indiana and Atlanta to see which team Washington could face in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Wizards themselves won’t necessarily be as invested.
“I haven’t decided yet [if I'll watch],” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “I’ll probably watch cartoons or something.”
“Definitely,” Wizards forward Drew Gooden said when asked if he would watch Thursday’s game. “[But] I say we don’t get too caught up in watching the game and cheering who we want to play in the next round.”
If No. 8 seed Atlanta, which leads holds a 3-2 series lead entering Thursday’s game, advances, the fifth-seeded Wizards will hold homecourt advantage, with Game 1 taking place Monday night at Verizon Center. If the No. 1 Pacers rally to win the series, the Wizards will travel to Indiana, where Washington lost two games by an average margin of 23.5 points during the regular season. On the other hand, the Wizards went 3-1 against Atlanta.
But Gooden says the Wizards aren’t getting too caught up in seeds or matchups. After all, it was just two weeks ago that Washington entered its first-round series against Chicago as a decided underdog before beating the Bulls in five games.
“I think we saw what Brooklyn did at the end of the regular season, trying to position themselves and fixing the cards they were dealt and then they’re down a game now [to Toronto] in the series and if they do win, they got to see Miami,” Gooden said. “Yes it will probably work in our favor to have homecourt but it didn’t work in Chicago’s favor to have homecourt either.”
Thursday served as a light day of practice, with Wizards Coach Randy Wittman giving the players a day to focus on individual workouts. Gooden lifted weights and put up some shots with teammate Al Harrington while Beal polished his catch-and-shoot skills and pull-up jumper.
Unwilling to waste a precious day of preparation during the frenzied playoffs, Wittman began putting together the gameplan for both the Pacers and Hawks.
Much like Chicago, Indiana prefers to play at a deliberate pace to capitalize on their physical style and size advantage in center Roy Hibbert and forward David West. But with Hibbert spiraling from his all-star form to an almost nonexistent presence in the paint with averages of 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in the playoffs, the matchup with the Pacers could favor a Wizards team that’s received strong contributions from post players Nene and Marcin Gortat.
In Atlanta, the Wizards would face an upstart squad that isn’t shy when it comes to hoisting three-pointers. The Hawks are averaging 30.2 three-point attempts per game in the playoffs compared to the 16.2 rate of the Wizards. Atlanta has hit 39.1 percent of those attempts, which ranks just above Washington’s percentage of 38.3. The Hawks’ ability to get hot from the outside has overshadowed their inferiority in the post, where they average just 38.6 rebounds per game compared to Washington’s 43.0 average.
Those numbers could again give the Wizards an advantage in the paint. But with fate out of their hands, the Wizards plan to use the next few days to rest and stay ready for whichever team comes their way.
“We’re going to learn our opponent — whoever it’s going to be, Atlanta or Indiana — we’re going to learn the players as best as we can and we’re going to be focused,” Gortat said. “We’re at the time of the year where there’s nothing that can really take us off our focus. It’s huge. In the first round, only half of the world is watching you, now it’s the whole world watching us.”