The Wizards and Pacers tip off Monday at 7 p.m., giving us just enough time to get these predictions in.
More Pacers-Wizards coverage:
- How Trevor Ariza can slow Paul George (by Umair)
- Wizards-Pacers by the numbers (by Amin)
- Bring back the AARP Unit (by Mike)
- The Lady Gaga conflict (by Jake)
- Mission Improbable: How to beat Indiana's D (by Mike in January for SBNation.com, still applies)
- Charles Barkley and Grant Hill are both on #TeamWizards
- Wizards need to maintain that underdog mentality (by Albert)
- Hawks, Pacers each present issues (by Mike, written before Indiana's Game 7 victory)
MIKE PRADA: Here is what this series won't be about:
- The Pacers snapping out of it: This is a team that went 16-14 since the All-Star break and 4-3 in a first-round series against an inferior opponent. An inferior opponent that matched up well against them, sure, but an inferior opponent. I don't see the Indiana of the first half of the season returning, not at this point. If the Pacers win, it's because this is a more conducive matchup to their style and because they can find some sort of happy medium between January Pacers and April Pacers.
- An "underdog" mentality: The Wizards will play this up, but this series is much more of a toss-up in many folks' minds than the previous one. We know the Wizards are playing well and we know Indiana is not. The question is whether one believes Indiana will play a little better with a better matchup.
- The Atlanta series: If the Wizards win this series, it won't be by replicating what the Hawks did. Atlanta has a funky team that plays five three-point shooters and fires away. They then used that space to let Jeff Teague attack the hoop successfully. The Hawks knew they were the underdogs and acted accordingly. The Wizards, though, don't have that kind of team, so the gameplan can't be the same. If the Wizards win, it'll be by beating the Pacers at their own game, save for the minutes the AARP Unit plays. Given the trajectory of both teams, the Wizards can definitely do that.
- John Wall's decision-making: The Wizards' star badly struggled in the three regular-season games and was particularly stifled by George Hill. That has to change for the Wizards to win this series. Wall needs to push tempo, make strong half-court decisions and tilt the air-tight Pacers defense the same way he tilted Chicago's. Make the Pacers put Paul George on him.
- Roy Hibbert: Is he better? If Hibbert comes close to matching his early-season form, the Pacers' defense will dominate and the Wizards are in big trouble. If not, the Wizards can scratch enough scoring together to get by.
- Indiana's offense: Bottom line: how do the Pacers score in this series? Trevor Ariza will slow George. Nene can check David West. Gortat can keep Hibbert off the offensive glass. Appropriate transition defense will lessen Lance Stephenson's impact. Hill's struggling. Luis Scola may get hot and C.J. Watson won't be the easiest matchup, but otherwise, Indiana's reserves lack punch and the AARP Unit can exploit the Pacers' slow bigs. The Wizards will struggle to generate offense against Indiana's D, but how the heck is Indiana supposed to score when the Wizards dial up the wing pressure like they did against the Bulls? Frank Vogel can't call timeout to draw up one of his nifty set plays every possession.
I don't see a short path to victory in this series and the backcourt is going to have to score efficiently for the Wizards to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. But I think they will, and that will in turn mean some big opportunities for Trevor Ariza once again.
No heart talking here. The Wizards are capable of being the better team and they will be, but a bloody battle awaits. Wizards in 7. (More thoughts on this series can be found here).
JAKE WHITACRE: I agree with everyone who has pointed out the Wizards do not present the same challenges to the Pacers that the Hawks did. The Hawks overcame a wide talent gap because they could exploit the Pacers' weaknesses in a way few teams can. The Wizards might not be able exploit the Pacers' weaknesses the same way.
But at this point, I really don't know where the Pacers stand. Even if Roy Hibbert regains some of his usefulness in this series, it's hard to envision him returning to his early season form, and without that, I don't think Paul George is going to be able to do enough against Trevor Ariza to keep the Pacers competitive. I can't believe I'm saying this, but someone needs to: Wizards in 5.
UMAIR KHAN: Full disclosure: I'm gonna search for reasons not to pick the Wizards because it worked so well in round 1.
I'm a pessimist, so I'm just going to assume the roughest part of Indiana's trip to the conference finals is over. They got blindsided by a Hawks team that had shooters at every position, which took Roy Hibbert completely out of the series. But it also thrusted Paul George into the alpha dog role, similar to what Kevin Durant went through when Russell Westbrook was sidelined earlier in the year. George is in another world, and I don't think he'll slow down much.
And they'll have to find a way to contain Lance Stephenson once he has a full head of steam down court. Bradley Beal revved up his effort on defense against Mike Dunleavy, but it was almost always in halfcourt sets when he was able to rely on his big men to show on screens and Trevor Ariza to switch when necessary. On the secondary break, he'll have to hold his own.
Feed me your hate. Pacers in 7.
Entering the playoffs, I wasn't necessarily doubting the Wizards' talent. When healthy, they've always been among the more skilled rosters in the conference. However, the first-round victory over Chicago showed me something I wasn't sure Washington had: the ability to consistently play at a high level. All season, they said it would come together. Against the Bulls, it did.
So while the Pacers showed some better form near the end of the Atlanta series, it's hard to ignore how good the Wizards have looked. Indiana is still Indiana, though, which means it won't be easy. Wizards in 7.