The Washington Wizards have won three in a row and, in case you haven't heard, John Wall is playing really, really well right now. Thing is, the teams they beat have combined to record of 13-31. Their opponents tonight, the Indiana Pacers, have won more games than all three of those teams combined. Let's see how this goes.
Where and when? Tip off is at 8 p.m. in Indiana.
Are they good? The Pacers are 14-1 and undefeated at home this year so, yeah, you could say that. They have the best defense in the NBA by almost any metric and Paul George just might be a top ten player. Heck, if George keeps on playing the way he has been, he could be a legitimate MVP candidate.
Who's out? The Pacers will be missing Danny Granger, a player who's been so injury-prone the last few years that it's easy to forget that he exists. Washington's missing Al Harrington (more likely than not), Otto Porter and Bradley Beal.
What are they good at? Defense, defense, defense. The worst starter is David West, who's still an above average defender, and everyone else in the starting lineup should have a legitimate shot at one of the All-Defense teams. George Hill is a coach's dream (long arms, great quickness, high IQ and can guard either backcourt position), George is 6'10 with long arms but mobile enough to check point guards, and Lance Stephenson is one of those tough, aggressive guys who seems to relish getting into battles with the Lebron's and Carmelo's of the world.
The guy who holds it all together, though, is the 7'2 Roy Hibbert. Hibbert's not very mobile, but he's tall and long as a mug and makes it almost impossible for opponents to get easy shots in the paint. He's blocking 3.9 shots per game in about 30 minutes of action this year and alters countless more. This ability to turn layups into awkward floaters is extremely valuable and had a lot to do with him almost winning Defensive Player of the Year last year.
What are they bad at? The Pacers' offense is still a little weak, ranking only 17th in the NBA in offensive rating this year. As good as West is, he's more of a pick and pop, pick and roll player and none of the Pacers' guards are particularly good at that. George is the only player who excels at creating efficient shots off the dribble and, while he's gotten better, he still doesn't have that killer instinct so characteristic of big time scorers. Meanwhile, despite his performance in last season's Eastern Conference Finals, Hibbert isn't a good enough post scorer or jump shooter for the team to run a lot of offense through him. If Granger can come back as even 80% of the player he used to be, though, the Pacers' offense could get a lot better very quickly.
How will the perception of the Wizards change if they pull this off? The Wizards are one game below .500 and, as good as they've been lately, they haven't beaten any of the league's elite teams (no, Brooklyn doesn't count any more). A win tonight would make a lot of people take notice and might vault the Wizards up from the ranks of "playoff contender" to "team most likely to get beaten by the Pacers or Heat in the second round". Yeah, that doesn't mean too much considering the Heat and Pacers are the only teams in the conference that look like they'll be true powerhouses. Similarly, if Washington loses, especially if it's by a lot, then the narrative will likely continue to be that they're a solid team that's playing well because John Wall is developing into a franchise player.
Where else can I read about the Pacers? Check out our sister site, Indy Cornrows.
Who's going to win? I'm going with the Pacers here. Indiana's just a better team and the presence of Hibbert will take away a lot of the layups that Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Wall feast off of. If the Wizards are going to win, they're going to need to push the pace in order to take Hibbert out of the game, get a little lucky from deep and goad the Pacers into running as much of their offense as possible through Hibbert instead of George or West.
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