There are still plenty of days remaining on the NBA calendar, and too many games that can shift the Eastern Conference landscape. The Washington Wizards recognize the volatility between the 3 through 6 spots as they begin the week in fourth place, just ahead of the Indiana Pacers. Still, those positions can switch by the time the Wizards touch down in San Antonio for their next game on Wednesday night.
Although things will change before the start of the postseason, Washington should hope for stability in the standings.
If the current 4-5 alignment remains the same, then the Wizards would get the desirable home-court advantage, as well as a favorable pairing.
“I think we match up good,” center Marcin Gortat said of Washington and Indiana after his team won the regular-season series, 2-1. “We had a much better effort [Saturday] than we did last time at home.”
Following the Wizards’ 109-102 win over the Pacers on Saturday night, Bradley Beal said he does not have a first-round preference.
“No matter who we match up against or who we go against, we got to play and you got to bring your ‘A’ game,” Beal said.
Even so, the Wizards’ success against the Pacers should not be lost on Beal. The examples were abundant: Washington neutralized Pacers’ all-star guard Victor Oladipo, turning him into a volume shooter to get 18 points, five points below his season average; the Wizards wisely adjusted to Bojan Bogdanovic and forced him to put the ball on the court instead of catching and shooting. Also, considering how the Wizards never lost control of the game — despite their 21-point lead being shaved to seven late in the fourth quarter — Beal admitted the obvious.
“I like how we match up with Indiana,” Beal said. “I feel like there’s a lot of stuff we can take advantage of and a lot of categories I think we can win in but it’s not 100 percent we’ll be playing them. So hypothetically, I do like Indiana.”
The same goes for Gortat, who found motivation in the Saturday night matchup to play his best game in months.
In his 11th season, the 6-foot-11 Gortat has accepted how smaller lineups and quicker pace of play have all but eliminated the traditional big man in the NBA. He doesn’t like it, but he gets it. Even on his own roster, Gortat will often sit on the sideline while the Wizards experiment with forwards Markieff Morris or Mike Scott at the five spot. But when the Wizards face the Pacers, Gortat can play the way he prefers since 33-year-old center Al Jefferson serves as the team’s third big behind Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.
Both Turner and Sabonis did not play at Capital One Arena due to left ankle sprains. Although other teammates planned on Turner starting the game, Gortat prepped only for what he felt would be the greater challenge in facing Jefferson.
“I didn’t even know he was questionable,” Gortat said of Turner. “I’m just getting ready for every game like everybody’s playing. To be honest with you, I mean I’d probably rather have Myles out there than Al Jefferson.
“That’s just super old school game,” Gortat added. “I have mad respect for Al Jefferson.”
With the injuries promoting Jefferson to the starting lineup, an energized Gortat enjoyed the vintage matchup and scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“I was glad,” said Gortat, who had an ongoing conversation with Jefferson in the game. “I told him right before the game that I was happy that I was actually going to battle the true big man inside, [who] wants to get inside and muscle up with me. Get all the hooks and fakes and shake and bake and all the stuff in the post. I mean, I’m not trying to be disrespectful to Myles Turner but the young fella wants to shoot threes and Al Jefferson gets inside and wants to get dirty. I love that. I respect that a lot.”
While Jefferson missed several looks around the rim — a tip-in, a five-foot hook and another look just outside the restricted area — and finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, Gortat looked refreshed in hitting six of eight shots. Gortat hasn’t converted that many shots since Feb. 25. His 18 points stand as Gortat’s highest scoring output since Jan. 3.
While Gortat held off the extinction of the big man for one more night, he doesn’t simply want a first-round matchup to relive glory days. Gortat would much rather own a top-four seed so that Washington can enjoy the spoils of home court.
“In the first round going [in] on an away game, it’s not easy,” Gortat said. “You want to have the momentum getting the first game at home and worst-case scenario if there’s a 3-3 [tie], you want to have the seventh game at home.”