The Wizards’ survival guide: How to escape elimination

May 14

(Thinkstock and Getty Images/Express Illustration)

It’s been hard to spot any trends in the Wizards-Pacers series. Washington shot 32.9 percent and scored 63 points in a Game 3 loss. Two games later, the Wizards made 50 percent of their shots and scored 102 points in a blowout win. And the opposing centers, Roy Hibbert and Marcin Gortat, have been erratic as well. Hibbert was scoreless in Game 1, then went for a team-high 28 points in Game 2. Gortat was 3-for-10 with six points in Games 3 and 4 combined, then he erupted for 31 points on 13-for-15 shooting Tuesday night. Throughout the up-and-down series, though, it’s become clear that four factors have proven essential to the Wizards winning.

1. Make free throws

During the regular season, the Wizards ranked 25th in the league in free-throw percentage (73.1), and they have gotten worse in the postseason. Out of the 16 NBA playoff teams, Washington is last in free-throw percentage this postseason at 68.7. In Games 2 and 3 of this series vs. the Pacers, both Wizards losses, Washington went a combined 16-for-33 (48.5 percent) from the line. In the Wizards’ two wins this series, they went 37-for-50 (74.0 percent).

2. Dominate the boards

The Wizards have won the rebounding battle in four of the five games in this series, but they were a plus-56 on the boards in their two wins and only a plus-four in their three losses. Just outrebounding the Pacers won’t be enough for the Wizards to win; Washington needs to dominate the boards to beat Indiana. The focus should be on Hibbert, who had just two total rebounds in the Wizards’ two wins and 23 in the Pacers’ three victories.

3. Don’t let Stephenson get involved

Pacers guard Lance Stephenson hasn’t scored more than 12 points in any game this series, but his effect on the Pacers can be measured in other ways. In Indiana’s three victories, he averaged 7.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists. In the Wizards’ two wins, he averaged 3.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Stephenson is a versatile swingman who can be a facilitator on offense — taking pressure off George Hill — while also helping the frontcourt on the boards.

4. Keep their distance

The Wizards have shown that they struggle down the stretch, letting Games 2 and 4 slip away from them late. Of their six playoff victories, only one was by fewer than six points. Meanwhile, three of the Wizards’ four playoff losses were by four points or less. If they could close out games, the Wizards would already be in the Eastern Conference finals. If the game is close with under a minute to play, the advantage will be in the hands of Paul George and the Pacers.

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Elliott Smith · May 14