It’s on like popcorn. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Back in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2005, the Wizards are once again taking on the No. 1 seed as an upstart fifth seed with a promising young backcourt (Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, meet John Wall and Bradley Beal) and a skilled power forward (Antawn Jamison, say hello to Nene). But that’s pretty much where the similarities between those teams end.

Nine years ago, the Wizards were just hoping to get one win off Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. Washington was so unprepared and happy to be there that the Heat swept with O’Neal not even bothering to suit up for the last two games.

This time around, the Wizards are confident that they will not only win a second-round game for the first time since 1982 but also defeat the Indiana Pacers to advance to the conference finals.

Indiana sputtered into this series, having stumbled to the finish in the regular season and barely getting by the Atlanta Hawks, the only playoff team with a losing record. Battling with the pressure of increased expectations and fighting amongst themselves, the Pacers have been so mediocre over the past two months that it is easy to forget that they once had the NBA’s best record at 40-11.   On the other hand, the Wizards are the hottest team in the NBA. They have gone 8-1 since losing to Charlotte on April 9. Wall and Beal are undaunted by the increased scrutiny of the postseason. And the chemistry is evident in their unselfish play and team dinners.

The Pacers won the regular season series against Washington, 2-1, with each team winning on its home floor. Indiana spent all season focused on the goal of having homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs – and it already helped in a seven-game series against Atlanta.

Here’s how the Wizards and Pacers matchup:

WASHINGTON - APRIL 25: Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) dunks the ball during the between the Washington Wizards and the Chicago Bulls at the Verizon Center on Friday, April 25, 2014. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post) We have lift off. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Point guard: John Wall vs. George Hill
Wall shot poorly in his playoff debut against Chicago but had a positive influence while serving as a solid floor manager and occasional decoy until he scored a game-high 24 points in the series-clinching Game 5. He will need to find a similar way to be effective against Indiana, which limited him to 13.7 points and 34 percent shooting in three games this regular season. The Pacers were 4-1 when George scored at least 14 points against Atlanta in the first round. George has a reputation as a defender but struggled against Jeff Teague.
Key playoff stats:
Wall: 18.8 points, 6.8 assists
Hill: 13 points, 4.0 assists
Advantage: Wizards

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards calls a play against the Chicago Bulls during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on April 27, 2014 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images) See. What had happened was… (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Shooting guard: Bradley Beal vs. Lance Stephenson
Beal was hardly overwhelmed in his first postseason series as he averaged a team-best 19.8 points and made 10 of 22 three-pointers. He joined Magic Johnson, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Harrison Barnes and Brandon Jennings as the only players to score at least 25 points in two playoff games before turning 21. Stephenson is an emotional firecracker whose versatility and defensive tenacity lift the Pacers during the occasional lulls but can also work to the detriment when he gets out of control.
Key playoff stats:
Beal: 19.8 points, 45.5 three-point percentage
Stephenson: 15.4 points, 8.9 rebounds
Advantage: Wizards

Got my mojo back, I think. (Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports) Got my mojo back, I think. (Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

Small forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Paul George
Ariza has held his own defensively against Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James at different times in the regular season, so it was nothing for him to completely neutralize Bulls leading scorer D.J. Augustin in the first round. His three-point shooting also gave the Wizards a boost as he made a team-best 13, including a franchise-record-tying six en route to a playoff career-high 30 points in Game 4. George was a legitimate contender for league MVP earlier in the season but has tapered off considerably while dealing with the trappings of fame and off-field distractions. He may have regained his rhythm by scoring 30 points in Game 7 against Atlanta.

Key playoff stats:
Ariza:  15.6 points, 46.4 three-point percentage
George: 23.9 points, 10.7 rebounds
Advantage: Pacers

Indiana Pacers forward David West (21) looks for an open man as Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott (32) defends in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series on Saturday, April 26, 2014 in Atlanta. The Pacers won 91-88 to even the series at 2 games apiece. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Let’s get ready to rumble. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Power forward: Nene vs. David West
The Wizards benefited from a healthy, angry Nene in their five-game victory over the Bulls. Nene dominated his matchup against NBA defensive player of the year Joakim Noah, averaging 20.3 points and 61.7 percent shooting in three road wins. He was ejected in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and suspended for Game 4, also at Verizon Center. An 11-year veteran, West is the soul of the Pacers and saved his best efforts against Atlanta for when the team desperately needed him. West had 18 points in a huge road win in Game 4 and another 24 points to help Indiana stave off elimination in Game 6.
Key playoff stats:
Nene: 17.8 points, 6.5 rebounds
West:  13.4 points, 6.9 rebounds
Advantage: Push


Don't snap out of it now, Roy. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports) Don’t snap out of it now, Roy. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Center: Marcin Gortat vs. Roy Hibbert
Gortat was defensive anchor in the first round, averaging two blocks and grabbing at least 11 rebounds three times. Though Gortat  didn’t have the best series offensively against Chicago – he shot just 39 percent and he failed to score in double figures in two of the five games – his production nearly doubled what Hibbert contributed in the first round against Atlanta. Hibbert, the former Georgetown star, was a liability on both ends and became the first all-star to have consecutive scoreless playoff games since Jim King in 1968. Atlanta made Hibbert irrelevant by going small, but the Wizards’ size might finally give him purpose.

Key playoff stats:
Gortat: 10.8 points, 9.6 rebounds
Hibbert: 5.7 points, 3.7 rebounds
Advantage: Wizards

Say what? (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) Say what? (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Bench: Three-man group vs. change of pace
The Wizards had a much tighter rotation in the postseason, with Trevor Booker, Martell Webster and Andre Miller the only reserves to play in all five games. Booker’s high-energy play was contagious and fueled several rallies, while Miller came through in the first two road wins in Chicago. Indiana’s second unit saved the Pacers against the Hawks, as Ian Mahinmi made up for the strange absence of Hibbert, C.J. Watson went on several scoring binges, and the insertion of Chris Copeland gave them the versatility to go small and close out the series.
Key playoff stats:
Wizards bench: 15.4 points per game
Pacers bench: 22.4 points
Advantage: Pacers

Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel calls a play against the Atlanta Hawks during the first half in Game 5 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series Monday, April 28, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) It’s two good teams. Should be fun. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Coach: Randy Wittman vs. Frank Vogel
After leading the Wizards to their first playoff series win since 2005, Wittman has the greatest postseason winning percentage in NBA history at .800. Wittman utilized his weapons to the fullest against the Bulls and made several shrewd moves that altered the series – he stuck with Miller over Wall in Game 1 and moved Ariza over to Augustin, shutting down Chicago’s best scorer in the clutch. After leading Indiana to the conference finals last season, Vogel coached the East team in the All-Star Game and guided the Pacers through a miserable late-season stretch to finish with the conference’s best record. He also made the necessary adjustments to help the team survive the Hawks.
Playoff records:
Wittman: 4-1 (all with Wizards)
Vogel:  22-20 (all with Pacers)
Advantage: Pacers

More on Wizards vs. Pacers:

Childhood tragedy helped fuel Trevor Ariza

Jason Reid: Pacers are eager to prove they’ve rebounded vs. Wizards

Mike Wise: Wizards are playing with house money

Wizards say they won’t change much in second round

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