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Wizards vs. Pacers game preview: Uphill battle

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Washington (7-8) at Indiana (14-1)

November 29, 2013 at 8:00 PM
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
TV: CSN Washington
Radio: 106.7FM The Fan

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Projected starting lineups:

Washington Wizards
C- Marcin Gortat, PF- Nene, SF- Trevor Ariza, SG- Martell Webster, PG- John Wall

Indiana Pacers
C- Roy Hibbert, PF- David West, SF- Paul George, SG- Lance Stephenson, PG- George Hill

Key matchup:

Paul George v. Trevor Ariza

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Even though there are multiple Pacers that average double figures in points per game, George is the guy they lean on when the going gets tough. He has been borderline unstoppable in the 4th quarter when the game is on the line, and it doesn’t help that the Wizards are missing their go-to scorer in Bradley Beal. Beal would already have had his work cut out for him if he was playing since George has shown dominance in isolation defense within the last year. This shooting guard matchup becomes more cloudy for the Wizards as they prep to put Trevor Ariza on him. To fully maximize this matchup, the Wizards have to get out on the break and have Ariza attempt and make as many open shots as he can get from downtown. He will have a tough time scoring otherwise on Paul George in the half-court. In the Wizards favor, Ariza has done a great job of limiting his opposition and his frame and athleticism matches up very well with George. If the Wizards want any chance of an upset, Ariza will have to have a near perfect game.

Spotlight:

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John Wall. John has played well enough lately that he is even being thrown into “best point guard alive” debates. Granted, he needs to prove a lot more before anything like that can even be argued. Tonight will be a good test for the young point guard. Beating George Hill will not be Wall’s toughest task, as Wizards and Pacers fans alike are more curious how he will do once he enters the paint. (Admittedly, the Pacers backcourt has done an excellent job of limiting opposing backcourts to very poor shooting percentages. The other day they limited Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker to 6 of 32 from the field.)

Roy Hibbert is one of the best paint presences in the league and Wall will have a tough time either getting over him or maneuvering his way around him. Hibbert has a knack for contesting shots without fouling, while also being able to recover from his initial contest to contest secondary shots via dump-offs in the lane. Wall will need to make it his duty to mix it up when he gets inside to keep Hibbert on his toes. Wall can try to go straight up against Hibbert any chance he gets into the paint but that’s a battle he won’t win too often. If he begins to lose this battle we might end up seeing him force more jump shots. Wizards fans want to see Wall take jumpers but they don’t want that to be the only thing he does all night.

The X-factor:

Wizards defense v. Pacers offense. Two things are a given for now and the foreseeable future. The Wizards can score. They are averaging approximately 100 ppg a game this season, and around 104 ppg during their 3-game winning streak. The other given is that the Pacers are absolutely dominant on defense. They were the best defensive team in the league last year, and this year they haven’t lost a step. The Pacers enter Friday night’s game ranked first in the NBA in opponents points allowed (86.5), opponent’s field goal percentage (.386), and defensive rating (89.3). According to NBA.com, no team has held their opponents under 88 ppg since the 2003-2004 Pistons, you know, those Pistons who who easily defeated a Shaq-Kobe-Malone-Payton core in the NBA Finals.

Translation: The Pacers are the best defense in the league in a while, and by a mile. The Wizards will have to play well with their relative weakness, their defense. They also have to limit the Pacers relative weakness, which is their offense. They will need to do that by limiting turnovers in order to be able to set up their half-court defense. They will have to limit the Pacers offense by limiting second-chance opportunities and getting out in transition early and often to tire out the Pacers big men.

The frontcourts. This one is simple. Gortat/Nene have to make Hibbert/West run full speed up the court every time they get a chance. They also have to withstand and compete with the level of physicality the Pacers big men play with. These guys can score and defend and Gortat and Nene have to grab a solid percentage of the rebounds available to them while also contributing some timely scoring. It will be easier said than done, but the Wizards don’t stand a chance if they lose this battle by a large margin. I haven’t even mentioned how the Wizards will handle the adversity of having Vesely and Seraphin play some minutes against this tough and physical Pacers frontcourt. This could be a long night.

What happened last time they played?

Washington ended the Pacers 9-game winning streak against the Wizards by crushing the Pacers at home. Wall put up 37 points on 25 shots and had three steals and two blocks as the Wizards crushed Indiana in the 2nd half. Paul George scored only two points as he was limited to 0-for-8 shooting. The Wizards won 105-84.

Who’s hurt?

Danny Granger remains out for the Pacers. Al Harrington has been making progress lately but apparently will sit this one out also. Otto Porter remains out.

Outlook:

Well…here we go. The Pacers have the best record in the league. The Pacers have the best defense in the league. The Pacers are 8-0 at home. The Pacers have the best up and coming star in the game. The Pacers arguably have the “Most Improved Player” in the NBA in their starting lineup. John Wall is the Wizards best player right now but even he will struggle against the lengthy and hard-working backcourt of the Pacers. The Pacers have a better bench and an advantage in the frontcourt. The Wizards have the advantage at the PG position but is that really enough to overcome the best team in the league?

To top it off, the worst game that Paul George has had in the last year was probably against Washington. The Wizards win streak was nice while it lasted but I don’t think they even have a chance tonight. However, the “nothing to lose” approach would be a good way for themselves to get even higher up for this game. Nobody is expecting the Wizards to win, not even myself. Also, The Pacers have a daunting road trip upcoming that includes games against Oklahoma City and San Antonio so maybe the Wizards get lucky and are being looked at as an automatic W by the Pacers. There are a lot of factors at play here but the Pacers are 14-1 for a reason. This will be an uphill battle for the Wiz Kids as they have the odds stacked against them.out.

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