Throughout the season, the Washington Wizards have at times appeared to elevate their play against superior opponents, yielding double-digit wins against the likes of Miami, Oklahoma City and Portland.
But there’s one Eastern Conference team that Washington (36-35) has yet to beat in two tries — the conference-leading Indiana Pacers, whom the Wizards will play host to at Verizon Center on Friday.
After losing the first meeting 93-73, Washington fell 93-66 in a January contest, marking its third-lowest point total in franchise history.
“Maybe it was playing in Indiana, all the Hoosier fans, and how rowdy they are,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said on Thursday. “I’m not sure why we struggle against them. That’s a great team. We have to give credit where it’s do.”
With Indiana fresh off a hard-fought win against defending champ Miami on Wednesday, the Wizards hope to notch a signature victory and end a skid that’s produced four losses in their last five games and placed their push to end a six-year playoff drought into neutral.
As evidenced by Washington’s average point total of 69.5 against Indiana (52-20) this season, the Pacers will again look to slow the tempo and exploit their size advantage inside through Roy Hibbert and David West, especially with Nene sidelined for Friday’s matchup.
The Wizards have eclipsed the 100-point mark in five of their last six games but they’ve also struggled defensively, surrendering an average of 107.5 points in that span. On the other hand, Indiana has held its last six opponents under 100 points and its last four under 90 points.
“What we know is Indiana is going to come in here and play physical,” Wizards forward Drew Gooden said. “They are one of the top defensive teams in the NBA. I don’t want to say it’s going to be a gun fight. I want to say it’s going to be a brawl in the alley with these guys. We got to be ready to play.”
Currently, the Wizards’ magic number to make the playoffs stands at four (thanks to a tiebreaker) with 11 games to play. Washington sits at the sixth seed, just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and four games behind third-seeded Toronto, whom the Wizards would face if the playoffs started today.
“In order to be a good team, we definitely have to not let our highs be too high and our lows be too low,” Washington’s Trevor Ariza said. “We have to just stay even keeled the whole time and when you do that, you give yourself a better chance of pulling out the scrappy and nasty games.”
(TV: Comcast SportsNet. Radio: WJFK-106.7 MF, WFED-1500 AM).
Here’s some reading to get you ready for tonight’s game:
From January: Pacers continue dominance over cold shooting Wizards
From November: Pacers rout Wizards