• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Wizards complete turnaround with rout of Pacers to clinch No. 8 seed in Eastern Conference

·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Six weeks ago, the Washington Wizards were cemented in the lottery with a 17-32 record and 13th place in the Eastern Conference. The playoffs were but a dream.

But with a barrage of Russell Westbrook triple-doubles and Bradley Beal buckets, the Wizards finished the regular season 17-6 and in eighth place with a spot in the play-in tournament.

Now, the once-woebegone Wizards are in the playoffs as the No. 8 after beating the Indiana Pacers 142-115 in the win-or-go-home play-in game on Thursday.

Washington will play top-seeded Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. Game 1 is Sunday (1 p.m. ET, TNT).

"Now we’ve got a chance to play against one of the best teams in basketball, and we’re excited about it," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "We know what we can do and what we’re about. We’re a much better team than we were in the first month of the season. We know that."

PLAYOFF SCHEDULE: First-round matchups, game times and TV info

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

The Wizards, of course, relied on their star guards.

Westbrook rebounded from a sub-optimal performance in Tuesday’s play-in loss to the Celtics with an efficient near triple-double: 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting, 15 assists and eight rebounds. Beal, who continues to play with a sore left hamstring, scored 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting.

It wasn’t just a two-man show.

Rui Hachimura had 18 points, Raul Neto added 14 and Daniel Gafford, a key trade deadline acquisition, had 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks for Washington. Big men Alex Len and Robin Lopez combined for 13 points and 10 rebounds.

The Wizards were 3-0 against the Pacers during the regular season, piling up points in each victory: 132-124 on March 29, 154-141 on May 3 (no overtime in that one) and 133-132 in overtime on May 8.

The Wizards exploited Indiana’s defense again in the play-in game. Washington scored at least 30 points in each quarter, including 48 in the third. It broke the game open in the second quarter. With the score tied at 34, the Wizards took off on a 16-0 run. Nothing Indiana tried slowed the Wizards.

By the end of the third quarter, Washington led 114-83. The Wizards shot 58.1% from the field and 50% (14-of-28) on 3-pointers.

Bradley Beal and the Wizards will face the top-seeded Sixers in the first round starting Sunday.
Bradley Beal and the Wizards will face the top-seeded Sixers in the first round starting Sunday.

The victory could have larger implications for the Wizards and coach Scott Brooks, whose future with the team remains undetermined beyond this season. He is in the final year of his five-year deal.

Washington was battered by health and safety protocols early in the season. Off to a 3-8 start, the Wizards didn’t play a game from Jan. 12 to Jan. 23, and by mid-March they were just 14-25. In a stretch from early March through early April, they lost 12 of 15 games and were 17-32.

Even when the season seemed hopeless, Westbrook gave an impassioned locker room talk and told his teammates he wasn’t missing the playoffs.

"I just wanted to let the team know that this season — at the time we were struggling and everybody was doubting us on the outside — we just had to find a way to knuckle up and make the playoffs, simple as that," Westbrook said. "We had to look in the mirror, starting with myself, and I made it clear to the guys that we’ll make it."

To get there, he needed to play better than he did in Tuesday’s loss to Boston. What were the 48 hours between games like?

"You can ask my wife, my mom, my dad, my brother — they’re so annoyed with me right now," Westbrook said. "I was so pissed at my performance and just wasn’t feeling the best when my team needed me the most. ...

"When I was Oklahoma City, Mo Cheeks told me, 'Great players don’t have two back-to-back bad games.' I’ve always kept that in my mind."

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Amid a difficult schedule with back-to-backs or playing every other day, the Wizards started winning. Brooks deserves credit for that — an indication that he can win when this roster is healthy and complete.

"What we’ve been through — I’ve said it, documented it, talked about it enough — but it still feels great," Brooks said. "Any time you can stick together through some tough times and keep fighting for one another, that’s what sports is all about and that’s what teams are all about.

"We’ve got a good group of guys. That’s why I love coaching this team because they’re always challenging each other and pushing each other. They deserve a lot of the credit, if not all of the credit, by doing that. It hasn’t been easy for a lot of reasons. But the easy part of it was coaching this group. That’s what makes my job enjoyable."

Also, Westbrook and Brooks are close, and Beal has freedom under Brooks and Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard, who has made the roster better through trades (Westbrook, Gafford, Chandler Hutchison), free agency (Len, Lopez, Neto, Ish Smith) and the draft (Hachimura, Deni Avdija). Thomas Bryant, the Wizards starting center, and Avdija, a rookie, are out with injuries.

Brooks could be in line for an extension, but that will be addressed after the season.

Now, it’s on to Philadelphia.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA play-in: Wizards rout Pacers to clinch No. 8 seed in East