The Washington Wizards aren’t just trying to extend their season on Thursday evening; the squad will also be attempting to develop some sort of carryover into 2014-15. There are players playing for paychecks, coaches working to set up residence, a general manager attempting to prove that his way of team-building was the right way.
The Pacers? They just want this to go away.
Indiana was created to end Miami’s run of championships. It was designed to topple the Heat, with arms outstretched, and it has flailed away in its repeated attempts to earn a shot at its fiercest rival. The Pacers were basically a .500 team down the final stretch of the regular season, it needed seven games to dispatch a sub-.500 team in the first round of the playoffs, and all typical signs would point to Indiana needing a Game 7 on its home floor to down the Wizards.
That’s assuming the Wizards can stretch things out. The team is 1-3 at home during the postseason, and the squad strangely lost just as many games at home during the regular season as it did on the road. That’s atypical for teams both good and bad, and though it’s a credit to Washington coach Randy Wittman that his young team has played so relatively well on the road, this isn’t an ideal set of circumstances to walk into, once the uniforms turn from red to white.
Of course, nothing about this series is typical. The Wizards have enough in them to overcome a 3-1 playoff deficit for the first time in 35 years, and Pacers are talented enough to take a deciding Game 6 in a walk. Washington did well to hurry Pacer ball-handlers in Game 5, taking Indiana out of its sets early and forcing the team into uneasy isolation forays. On the other end, Washington countered the recently re-born Roy Hibbert with an active Marcin Gortat, suddenly remembering that they had a 7-footer with skills and touch, strength and hops, allowing the big man several touches both down low and in the pinch post.
Gortat responded with a 31-point, 16-rebound effort, but it was only half-needed as the Wizards rolled to a 102-79 rout of the Pacers. Indiana compiled a shockingly-low amount of rebounds, losing a historically-bad 62-23 total on the glass, numbers that had some Twitter users asking if their hometown paper had run a typo in place of the correct digits. With all of the momentum on their side, with a clear plan in place as to how to beat the Washington Wizards after three straight conquests, the Pacers let it all slip away in embarrassing fashion. At home, no less.
That’s how these teams work, apparently. Neither side is secure working with an advantage, as it took series deficits or ties for either team to produce its best work, with the Pacers working expertly away from the glare of the home crowd and the Wizards doing the same when nobody expected them to win.
And now, the Wizards have to fall in line with orthodoxy. A win or stay home Game 6 to save their season, pitched in Washington, with the odds clearly on their side. Most other second round teams would take a game like this, irrespective of opponent. The Wizards have proven to be unlike other teams, though, from the regular season through playoffs. That isn’t to say that they’re shirking violets, but they do appear to be learning on the fly.
The Pacers? Nobody knows what to make of this team until it plays the Miami Heat. They absolutely cannot be counted on to do things the normal way unless LeBron and company are lining up on the other side. Can Frank Vogel convince his crew to value possessions, and to talk well enough defensively to cover the glass once the weak side of the defense turns strong and forces the Wizards into a miss? Can the team figure out how to share the rock on the other end? There’s absolutely no way of knowing – this is the strangest, most confounding Eastern Conference leader in ages.
By all accounts, the Wizards should extend their season on Thursday night. The team should attempt to prove that future free agents Gortat and Trevor Ariza should stay for good. They should execute as Randy Wittman sees fit, and they should prove that beleaguered general manager Ernie Grunfeld was right to go all-in on 2013-14, future be damned.
This would have them winning at home, though, in a building they’ve fallen short in three out of four postseason tries. Then again, they’re playing the Pacers, a team that was out-rebounded by 39 just two days ago.
This is the strangest series. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
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