WASHINGTON (AP)—After the Washington Wizards’ backups eliminated the very sub-.500 Indiana Pacers from the playoff race, the public address announcer gave the crowd more good news: The Cleveland Cavaliers had lost, keeping alive the hope for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Oops. He spoke too soon. The Wizards walked off the court, gathered around the television and watched the Cavaliers get a second chance after officials ruled a foul had taken place with less than a second to play.
“Somebody told me Cleveland lost. I felt that much better,” guard Roger Mason said. “I come in the locker room and they’re shooting two free throws. It doesn’t matter. We know we’re going to be playing them in the playoffs.”
Playing them in the playoffs—again. For the third season in a row, the Wizards will open on the road in Cleveland. Washington’s 117-110 win over Indiana on Monday night coincided with the Cavaliers’ 91-90 victory over Philadelphia, securing the No. 4 seed for LeBron James and Co. and the No. 5 seed for Washington.
The Cavaliers swept the Wizards last year and won in six games the year before.
“It’s a broken record,” center Brendan Haywood said. “Even though we’ve been playing the same team over and over again, kind of like ‘Groundhog Day,’ we’re still happy to be there and we’re not taking it for granted.”
Despite the playoff implications of Monday’s game, Washington coach Eddie Jordan went to his bench early and often, getting 31 points from Mason, 14 from rookie Nick Young and little resistance from the Pacers’ defense. Gilbert Arenas was given the night off and Caron Butler sat out with a bruised knee.
The Wizards’ reserves outscored their starters 70-47. The disparity was even greater after DeShawn Stevenson left early in the second half with a sore back.
The Pacers needed to win their last two games and have Atlanta lose two straight to make the playoffs, but they didn’t put up much of a fight until the very end. The Wizards never trailed, led by 17 in the second quarter, by 22 in the third and by 18—101-83—early in the fourth.
Indiana finally pulled within single digits when Danny Granger hit a 3-pointer to make the score 112-105 with 1:11 to play. David Harrison’s dunk cut the lead to six with 29 seconds left, and Marquis Daniels hit a 3-pointer with 18 seconds to go to make it a three-point game. But the Wizards made four free throws in the final 20 seconds to hold on.
“We didn’t bring it, that’s the bottom line,” Indiana coach Jim O’Brien said. “It’s not a matter of being surprised, it’s irrelevant whether I’m surprised or not. Big game and we did not defend.”
Then again, the Pacers had to feel lucky to be in the postseason running considering the loss dropped them 11 games below .500 in the mediocre East. They worked themselves into contention by winning four straight earlier this month, but couldn’t beat lottery-bound Charlotte on Saturday or Washington’s second-team Monday.
“It’s disappointing,” said Mike Dunleavy, who scored 26 points. “But we really gave it away the other night at home against Charlotte, and tonight was just the icing on the cake.”
Granger had 35 points and nine rebounds to lead the Pacers. Indiana played without center Jeff Foster, who bruised his right knee in the loss to Charlotte.
Arenas, playing limited minutes as a reserve since returning from knee surgery, was given a precautionary rest day. Butler missed his second consecutive game with the sore knee.
The Wizards broke the franchise season record for 3-pointers, making 13 to bring the total to 571. The previous mark was 561, set last season. … Mason was one point shy of his career high. Granger was two points short of his career best. … Indiana finishes the regular season Wednesday at home against New York. Washington, which has won five of six, wraps up the same night at Orlando.