Both the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers reached the Eastern Conference semifinals by bucking the odds.
The fifth-seeded Wizards upset fourth-seeded Chicago to win just its third playoff series in 30 years. Meantime, Indiana overcame a three-games-to-two deficit to avoid becoming just the sixth top seed to fall in the first round, ultimately downing eighth-seeded Atlanta in Saturday’s Game 7.
With the Wizards and Pacers riding a wave of momentum into Monday’s Game 1 at 7 p.m. in Indiana, here a few numbers that could prove telling:
Consecutive losses by the Wizards to the Pacers in Indiana, dating from April 2007. This isn’t the first time you’ve read this stat, and until the Wizards win one in Indy, it won’t be the last. Two of their three regular-season meetings took place in Indiana, and both teams have reversed course since their Jan. 10 tilt in Indiana, with the Pacers losing 11 of their past 20 games and the Wizards winning eight of their last nine. But the biggest difference in the Wizards two losses on the road and one victory were offensive rebounds (12 in victory; seven in defeat), free throws (94.1 percent in victory; 50 percent in defeat), and turnovers (10 in victory; 16 in defeat). Indiana’s success at home this season along with Washington’s overall recent struggles against the Pacers, losing 11 of the last 13 matchups, almost makes Monday a must-win should the Wizards look to squelch Indiana’s momentum.
Defensive rating of the Pacers, tops in the NBA during the regular season. In allowing just 96.7 points per 100 possessions, Indiana was successful in slowing down and controlling the pace of the game by working inside-out on offense and forcing the opponent into bad shots on the defensive end. This worked especially well against the Wizards, whose offensive rating of 82.0 was the lowest among any of Indiana’s opponents this season. It’s no secret that the Wizards are at their best when the tempo is fast. Both George Hill and Paul George had success limiting John Wall and Trevor Ariza, respectively, according to NBA.com/stats. Wall has to be careful not to settle for jump shots, and Ariza must keep moving around the floor so that as Wall penetrates, he can better find Ariza for open shots.
Fastbreak points by the Wizards in their March 28 victory against Indiana, compared to an average of seven across their two regular-season losses to the Pacers. For the season, 15.6 percent of Washington’s points came in transition. That number actually dropped to 13.4 in its four playoff victories against Chicago but considering that just 5.8 percent of the Bulls’ points came on fast breaks, it’s clear Washington dictated the tempo. The Wizards must do the same against the equally deliberate Pacers, who have more offensive weapons but still prefer to play slow, as evidenced by just 9.9 percent of their points coming in transition during the regular season. If the tempo is fast, that not only means Wall is in his comfort zone, but it also means the ball is moving and the Pacers are being kept off the offensive glass.
Triple-doubles by Indiana’s Lance Stephenson this year. Like Wall, the fourth-year guard is in the midst of a career season, and like Wall, Stephenson doesn’t mind playing at a fast pace. In fact, he’s one of the few Pacers who prefers it after being raised within New York’s brand of basketball. Bradley Beal will be mostly responsible for shadowing Stephenson, who can be effective even on off shooting nights. Beal must get a body on Stephenson to keep him off the offensive boards and guard him closely along the perimeter to stop him from creating off the dribble with passes to Indiana’s bigs.
Combined rebounds averaged by Paul George, Lance Stephenson and David West in the playoffs. Sure, the Pacers held a large size advantage against the Hawks, but no player in this trio stands above 6-foot-9. George has been especially active on the glass, grabbing 75 percent of his rebounding opportunities to pull down 10.7 per game in the playoffs. The Wizards have physical post players in Nene and Marcin Gortat to help counter this, but with their attention set on Hibbert and Luis Scola, Ariza and Beal must crash the boards as well. The battle in the paint isn’t as central as it was in the Chicago series, but the Wizards must show versatility on defense to match the various ways Indiana can hurt its opponents.
Points averaged by Washington’s bench players compared to 23.8 by Indiana’s reserves. The playoffs are all about matchups and rotations often shrink as a result. In Indiana’s Game 7 win against Atlanta, capable reserves Luis Scola and Evan Turner didn’t even play. Still, with the teams playing every other day now and the playoff intensity heating up, having a spark off the bench could make a huge difference. Trevor Booker has been the most consistent reserve for the Wizards with guards Andre Miller and Martell Webster receiving most of the remaining second-unit minutes. But with Indiana able to bring Scola and Ian Mahinmi off the bench to man the paint, Washington’s five days of rest would bode well should Randy Wittman turn to Drew Gooden and Al Harrington more often as a result.