For a team that has thrived on being the underdog throughout the postseason, the Wizards presumably got what they wanted in a second-round matchup against the Indiana Pacers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers outlasted the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 on Saturday with a 92-80 victory that offered a reminder of the team that ran roughshod through the league before hitting a round patch over the past two months.
Had the Hawks become the fifth No. 8 seed to win a first-round playoff series, the Wizards would have had home-court advantage and been a heavy favorite. But with Game 1 of the conference semifinals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday, Washington has a chance to earn more respect throughout the league and possibly play spoiler to the expected conference finals rematch between the Pacers and two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
The Wizards can also continue their success away from Verizon Center. They finished tied with the best road record in the East in the regular season and swept all three away games in their first-round series against Chicago.
“We are better road team because we don’t have our crowd,” Marcin Gortat said. “We don’t have to flex and jump after every shot we make. It’s a better thing for us.”
That road success, however, has not come in Indianapolis, where the Wizards have lost 12 consecutive games dating from April 11, 2007. They lost both road games against the Pacers this season by a combined 47 points, including a 93-66 loss on Jan. 10, when the Wizards matched the franchise record for the third lowest-scoring output.
While the Pacers were crumbling late in the season, the Wizards took advantage and claimed a 91-78 victory on March 28 at Verizon Center. The Pacers have lost 17 of their past 31 games since March 4.
The Wizards were able to change some perceptions about the franchise and gain new supporters with a five-game series win over the Bulls, but Bradley Beal said the players can’t caught up in the overwhelming about of praise that has been reaped upon them over the past few weeks.
“Got to ignore it,” Beal said. “People are going to start jumping on your bandwagon, give you praises, saying you can do this, you can do this, you’re capable of making it far, but we’ve got to keep our core and just focus on what we need to do and winning games. We got to stay humble and keep working because we still haven’t accomplished anything.”
The Wizards have been preparing for the second round since finishing off the Bulls last Tuesday, gaining a much-needed break after a grueling series. Nene said the Wizards earned the right to rest by quickly taking care of business. Nene remains motivated by those who thought the Wizards’ season would’ve already been over. “Sorry, haters,” Nene said. “I’m always going to mention the haters. They don’t know the future and now we are here in the second round of the playoffs. Thank God for that.”
Note: The dates for the seven-game series have already been set, but if the series extends to six games, the Wizards would have a scheduling problem on May 15 because of a Lady Gaga concert that is already booked for that night. The Wizards released a statement on Saturday night that read, “We are aware of the potential conflict and are working with the promoter in the event Game 6 is necessary, more information will be released when it becomes available.”