Pacers 111, Wizards 87
The Washington Wizards continue to talk about becoming a better defensive team. On nights like Thursday, however, when the Indiana Pacers, playing without starters Ron Artest and Jamaal Tinsley, put up a combined 69 points in the second and third quarters and shoot 59 percent and hand Washington a season-worst 111-87 loss, such talk seems a long way from reality.
On a night when all-stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison combined to make only 12 of 35 shots and score 33 points, the Wizards (8-9) were unable to hold on to a 16-point, second-quarter lead largely because the Pacers had no problem executing their offense and getting just about any kind of shot they wanted.
Even without Artest, who was in street clothes with a wrist injury, and Tinsley, who missed his fourth consecutive game with a strained thigh, the Pacers scored a season-high 111 points, posted a season-high 27 assists and notched their largest margin of victory at Conseco Fieldhouse this season.
"We're just giving up too many points," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We started out with a pretty good game plan, working and executing it but it seemed like we just couldn't handle prosperity, especially with them coming back at us. We were holding on just to hold a lead at the end of the half, they started making shots and we got a little big disorganized."
One first-half sequence told the story of the game. The Wizards led 36-23 when Caron Butler missed a jump shot. As they moved back on defense, the Wizards had a miscommunication and left Indiana swingman Stephen Jackson wide open on the wing in transition. Jackson, who finished with a season-high 30 points, made a three-pointer to cap a quick, 8-2 Indiana run and caused Jordan to stomp his foot in disgust before calling timeout.
In the huddle, Jordan tore into his team. The rant wasn't totally audible but at one point, Jordan could clearly be heard yelling: "Keep your focus."
It was already too late.
The Pacers were off and running their way to a 32-point quarter during which they hit 14 of 19 shots including 4 of 5 three-point attempts and took control. In addition to Jackson putting up 13 points during the quarter, center Jermaine O'Neal made an adjustment in his matchup with Wizards center Brendan Haywood, who had success against O'Neal during the first quarter.
Instead of continuing to keep Haywood in the low post, O'Neal drew Haywood out to around 15 feet from the basket and began dropping jump shots over him. O'Neal scored six points during the quarter and added nine more during a 37-point third when the Pacers turned a 51-50 halftime deficit into an 87-71 lead.
Former Maryland guard Sarunas Jasikevicius scored 10 of his 12 points in the third and the Wizards went ice cold on their end, repeatedly settling for, and missing jump shots. Arenas, whose night included two spectacular one-handed dunks in traffic, missed six of his eight attempts in the quarter, Jamison missed three of four and the Wizards shot 27.6 percent as a team.
The quarter ended in telling fashion when Indiana guard Fred Jones turned the corner at the top of the key and encountered zero resistance on his way to an open layup.
The Wizards have lost 14 of their past 16 games at Indiana and continued a recent trend of following a win with a loss. Whether the Wizards continue that trend by beating the Chicago Bulls at MCI Center on Saturday night depends largely on their ability to buckle down and play some kind of consistent defense.
"There's no secret about what we need to do," Jamison said. "We know we can play better defense because we've done it at times this season. We just have to find a way to do it more often."