Perhaps the bigger question than whether the Washington Wizards can once again stave off elimination Thursday in Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers is this: Which version of the Wizards and Pacers will show up to Verizon Center?
Through the first five games of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, we’ve seen:
-Trevor Ariza shoot unconsciously from three-point land in Game 1
-Roy Hibbert play like an all star in Game 2
-Indiana show why it was the NBA’s best defense during the regular season by holding the Wizards to a new franchise low.
-Paul George remind fans that he once was in the MVP discussion in Game 4
With Washington’s Game 5 blowout win still fresh in mind, it’s safe to say the Pacers will adjust their strategy to better contain Wall and Gortat. Does that mean a big game is possibly in store for Nene, who is shooting just 35.9 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from the foul line in the series?
“I think so, because I think they’re going to key in on Marc more,” Bradley Beal said before Thursday’s shootaround. “Marc had  and  last game. I think they’ll definitely be keyed in on him. And John. That’s just going to open up the floor for everybody else.”
No doubt that Wall playing aggressive and with confidence is key to the Wizards’ success but in the playoffs, the play of Washington’s post players has been just as crucial.
In the Wizards’ six wins, Nene and Gortat have combined to average 30 points and 17.7 rebounds but in their four losses, those totals drop to 20.5 points and 12.6 boards. Against Chicago, Nene took the lead with his mid-range jump shot and passing out of the post. Now on the heels of Gortat’s best game as a Wizard and with Nene struggling to get going offensively, Gortat acknowledged that both of them must find a way to impact the Wizards, whether it be on the offensive or defensive end.
“One of us has to sacrifice a lot, get in foul trouble, get dirty and do those dirty things on the court,” Gortat said. “At the end of the day, there’s only one ball and there’s five thirsty guys that wants to score and wants to be a hero, so we have to find the right guy who’s going to be in the game, who’s going to have the rhythm of the game and help us to win. Nene was decoy in Game 5 and I was decoy in Game 3 and 4, so hopefully today somebody else will take that.”
Meantime on defense, the Wizards will look to neutralize the Pacers’ wealth of weapons that have been on display at various points in the series. In Indiana’s two losses, Hibbert has totaled four points and two rebounds while Trevor Ariza has clamped down on Paul George, holding him to 16.5 points on 9-for-32 shooting.
“George and (David) West and Hibbert, from a scorer’s standpoint, when we’ve had success, we’ve done a good job on two of three,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We didn’t let the other one get away.”
(TV: ESPN; WNEW-99.1 FM, WFED-1500 AM)
Here’s some reading to get you ready for tonight’s game: