The Indiana Pacers’ five-game winning streak came to end Friday, but they’ll get a chance to get back on track against a team they’ve beaten in nine straight meetings.
The Washington Wizards they’ll face Saturday night, though, are hardly the same club they last saw three months ago.
The Pacers try again to clinch their first Central Division title in nine years Saturday night, but to do so they’ll have to end the Wizards’ eight-game home winning streak.
Indiana (48-28) had won eight of nine heading into Friday’s visit from Oklahoma City, but it failed to take advantage of a chance to claim its first Central crown since 2003-04. The Pacers trailed by one at the half and five after three quarters, but were outscored 25-8 in the final 12 minutes in a 97-75 loss to a Thunder team that arrived in Indianapolis at 4 a.m.
“Our goal above all else was to win the division, so we have to regroup tonight, prepare tomorrow for Washington, which has been playing tough at home, and go out and try to clinch this thing,” forward David West said.
Chicago won Friday to keep its slim Central hopes alive, but Indiana doesn’t have to wait long to get another shot to close it out. It’s on to the nation’s capital to face the Wizards, whom the Pacers have held to 85.0 points per game in three victories this season.
Two of those came in November and the other Jan. 2, 10 days before John Wall made his season debut. Since Wall came back, Washington is 23-19 - the Eastern Conference’s fifth-best record - and a remarkable 17-4 at the Verizon Center.
The Wizards (28-47) have won by an average of 12.2 points during their win streak on their home floor, shooting a stunning 50.4 percent from 3-point range during a stretch in which Wall has averaged 23.8 points and 8.6 assists.
They haven’t won nine straight at home since a 10-game run Dec. 13, 2006-Jan. 20, 2007.
Washington wasn’t nearly that sharp Wednesday in Toronto, shooting 20.0 percent after halftime and blowing an 11-point cushion in an 88-78 loss.
“We did not come out with any focus,” coach Randy Wittman said. “To be up 11 at halftime and then go through the motions in those first three minutes, let them back in it. We need that killer instinct, and we have not shown it.”
The Wizards will need a little extra focus with Bradley Beal officially done for the season with a right leg injury, and Martell Webster had been providing some key minutes of late. But after averaging 17.6 points in 10 games March 9-29, he’s totaled 17 in his last three.
The Pacers had hit triple digits in each game of their winning streak prior to Friday, when they shot a season-worst 2 of 21 from beyond the arc. Paul George missed all six of his attempts from 3, finishing with eight points.
George had 29 points and 14 rebounds in an 89-81 win over Washington in January, and the Pacers’ ability to dominate the boards has played a key role in this series. Indiana has a plus-8.3 rebound margin against the Wizards in 2012-13, outscoring them by an average of 9.3 points in the paint.