NBA Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. Washington Wizards

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SEASON RECORDS

Indiana Pacers: 56-26

Washington Wizards: 44-38

KEY INJURIES

Indiana Pacers: Andrew Bynum (out indefinitely, knee)

Washington Wizards: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Indiana Pacers: Offense 101.5 (22nd in the NBA), Defense 96.7 (1st in the NBA)

Washington Wizards: Offense 103.3 (18th in NBA), Defense 102.4 (10th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) How much can/will the Wizards stretch the Pacers?

The Hawks took Indiana to seven games by stretching the floor, pulling Roy Hibbert out of the paint and gunning 3-pointers.

That was Atlanta’s identity. It’s not exactly the Wizards’.

Washington’s four most-used bigs – Marcin Gortat, Nene, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin – lack range to shoot from the perimeter. And typically, the Wizards used two of them at a time.

In a first-round win over the Bulls, Gortat, Nene and Booker (Seraphin didn’t make the rotation) were Washington’s power forward-center combination 84 percent of the time. In the regular-season, the Wizards weren’t quite as dependent on a non-shooting PF-C combo, but they still used one 65 percent of the time.

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Fortunately for the Wizards, they have a couple bigs with shooting range on the roster: Al Harrington and Drew Gooden. Those two played together frequently, building a bit of chemistry and making them more effective in tandem Trevor Ariza can also play small-ball power forward.

So, the Wizards can definitely stretch the floor at times. The main question is how much they’re willing to alter their rotation to do it more.

Would Randy Wittman do something radical – staring Harrington and Gooden – and force the Pacers to make the adjustments they’re reluctant to make? Harrington and Gooden playing together at any point would wrinkle Indiana’s preferred scheme, but if they play together with Hibbert and a tradition power forward (David West or Luis Scola) in the game, it would go much further.

Wittman should deploy Harrington and Gooden primarily against Hibbert, but matching rotations could be difficult. Doing so to begin halves would be the simplest – and most daring – way to do it.

The Wizards might not have to go to such extreme measures, but the goal – stretching the floor – should play a big factor in this series.

2) Will the Pacers protect the ball?

The Pacers are not a good passing team, and the Wizards excelled at forcing turnovers during the regular season.

Against Chicago’s limited offense, the Wizards didn’t take quite as many chances going for turnovers. They just played sound defense and let the Bulls miss shots.

How will Washington approach the Pacers’ never-good, lately imploding offense? The question might be decided on the other end of the floor.

If the Wizards can score against Indiana’s once-stout defense, they can afford to lower variance defensively. If they can’t, they might need to go for turnovers and the fastbreak points steals generate – even if that strategy allows the Pacers more layups and dunks due to out-of-position defenders.

3) Have Roy Hibbert and the rest of the Pacers lost their mental edge?

Indiana finished the season with a 10-13 stretch and then struggled more than most expected in a first-round win over the Hawks. No Pacer has fallen harder than Hibbert, who went from All-Star to nearly benched.

But Vogel stuck with the center, and Hibbert rewarded that faith with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in a Game 7 win over Atlanta. Unquestionably, the Hawks were a bad matchup for Hibbert, but that doesn’t explain his second-half slide. It’s tough to say exactly where Hibbert stands entering this series.

Maybe rallying to win from down 2-1 and 3-2 to Atlanta has righted the Pacers’ ship. More likely, they remain fragile.

Where is Hibbert’s confidence? Where is Indiana’s? Where the answers fall on the spectrum could determine the series.

PREDICTION

For most of the season, the Pacers were the better team. But it matters only which is better now.

Wizards in 7

Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo to wear “Equality” on jersey

Giannis Antetokounmpo jersey
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While a couple of high profile stars — LeBron James and Anthony Davisare forgoing a social justice message on their jersey, Giannis Antetokounmpo has settled on one.

“Equality.”

That’s what the reigning MVP told reporters Monday, it’s the same message his brothers (Thanasis Antetokounmpo, also on the Bucks) will wear. Giannis would not get into why he chose “equality.”

Antetokounmpo, who grew up as a poor immigrant in Athens, is not going to complain about the bubble conditions. From Eric Woodyard of ESPN.

“I’m in a situation where I’m extremely blessed and I cannot complain. Obviously, it doesn’t matter where you are in life, there’s always something to complain, there’s always a problem and an issue,” Antetokounmpo said. “But I try to kind of not focus on that. So as I said, my apartment in Greece, when I was younger, with my four brothers, was way smaller than the suite that I have in the hotel, so I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.

“This is something special,” he continued. “Hopefully, this pandemic never happens again so we never are able to come back in the campus, but at the end of the day, this is part of history, so just being able to be here, participate in this, I’m just trying to be in the moment, trying to enjoy every moment, trying to enjoy basketball. I’m happy that we’re back playing basketball, something that I love doing, so there’s nothing really to complain about.”

If only every player had that mindset.

 

Pacers’ increasingly optimistic Victor Oladipo to play in restart

Victor Oladipo play
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“With all the variables, from how I have to build my 5-on-5 workload back up, to the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab, and the unknown exact set up of the bubble, I just can’t get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing… getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me.”

That was Pacers’star Victor Oladipo explaining why he would sit out the NBA restart in Orlando.

Then he got to the Walt Disney World property and saw the set up of the bubble, and he got in some five-on-five practices with teammates, and not it appears he might play after all, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Oladeipo may lace them up and play at the end of the month, but nothing is set in stone. Of course, a competitor like Oladipo wants to get on the court, and there is an unquestioned energy finally getting back out there after the coronavirus-forced interruption.

There are also another $2.7 million reasons for him to play (the salary he would lose sitting out). Countering that, Oladipo also got one more year under contract and his concerns about an injury from ramping up to fast are legitimate.

Oladipo missed more than a year after surgery to repair a torn right quad tendon. He played in 13 games before the league was shut down, and in the last five of those he averaged 18.6 points and 4.8 rebounds a game.

Indiana enters the bubble as the five seed in the East, tied with the sixth-seed Sixers, and just two games back of the four seed Heat. There could be a lot of shakeups in the middle of the East standings, which would impact first-round playoff matchups.

The Pacers are a much more dangerous threat with Oladipo in the lineup, but the player and the team need to decide if now is the time to push that advantage.

Kings’ Richaun Holmes quarantined after leaving NBA bubble for food delivery

Kings center Richaun Holmes
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Coronavirus cases are surging in Florida. The NBA’s bubble is in Florida.

Is that a problem?

Theoretically, the bubble location shouldn’t matter. The NBA’s setup at Disney World is designed for players never to come into too close of contact with the surrounding community. So, it wouldn’t matter how prevalent coronavirus is in the surrounding community.

Unless someone violates the protocols.

Which nobody eeeeever expected would happen.

Kings center Richaun Holmes:

Presumably, Holmes – like Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo – faces a 10-day quarantine

That’s the way to ensure Holmes didn’t contract coronavirus from the deliverer. Holmes would almost certainly test positive and/or show symptoms within 10 days if he has coronavirus. A player spreading coronavirus within the bubble is the ultimate fear for the NBA.

Unlike some other players, Holmes even vouched for the quality of food brought to his room. Yet, he still wanted outside delivery.

Maybe there’s a safe way to get it. The deliverer – away from people – could set the food down at the edge of the campus then retreat at least six feet. At that point, Holmes could go pick it up.

But without those precautions, Holmes put himself – and therefore everyone else in the bubble – at too great of a risk. Hence, the lengthy quarantine.

Holmes has been essential to Sacramento’s turnaround. Yes, Marvin Bagley III should be healthier. But the energetic Holmes is the Kings’ most dependable center.

To make the playoffs, they’ll need him following the rules and allowed outside his room.

NBA: 19 more players, two at Disney World tested positive for coronavirus

NBA coronavirus
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On June 23, 16 NBA players tested positive for coronavirus. Between June 24-29, nine more NBA players tested positive.

But that downward trend took a sharp reversal in July.

At least 19 more players, two after arriving at Disney World, have tested positive for coronavirus

NBA release:

Of the 322 players tested for COVID-19 since arriving on the NBA Campus July 7, two have returned confirmed positive tests while in quarantine.  Those players never cleared quarantine and have since left the Campus to isolate at home or in isolation housing.

Since July 1, during in-market testing, 19 NBA players newly tested positive.  These players are staying in their home markets and recovering until they are cleared under CDC guidelines and NBA rules for leaving home isolation and joining the Campus.

Those 19 new positive tests are a disturbingly high number.

It can be difficult to compare different date ranges. June 23 is only a single day, but as the first day of in-market testing, it covered weeks of players potentially contracting coronavirus. The second testing period (June 24-29) is shorter than the July period (which varied based on whether teams departed July 7, 8 or 9 for Disney World).

But, ideally, the number of cases would’ve shrunk as players became increasingly immersed in the NBA’s plan, which called for greater precautions and testing.

The league and teams should investigate why there were so many new cases in July – then explain the findings to the public. Given the lack of transparency around the restart, I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.

At least there are no known positive tests from players who’ve been given free reign within the bubble. That’s the most alarming scenario. Two players testing positive during their in-room quarantines appears to be the system working.

However, the league should confirm that anyone traveling with those two players didn’t become infected en route. A false negative could be catastrophic.

This brings the minimum total of NBA players who’ve tested positive for coronavirus under the league’s restart plan to 44.

And there’s two positive tests at Disney World.* Plus everyone who tested positive before June 23 (at least 10 players**) and tested positive only outside the NBA’s system.

That’s a LARGE segment of NBA players – at least 54.

*It’s possible these two players previously tested positive, tested negative, traveled to Orlando then tested positive again. So, they’re not necessarily new cases.

**Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, Pistons big Christian Wood, four Nets including Kevin Durant, Celtics guard Marcus Smart and two Lakers.

Yet, it still doesn’t say much about the safety of the NBA bubble, which is just getting underway. The outside world is dangerously full of coronavirus. That’s what all these positive tests so far show.

Additional positive tests – by players fully involved in the bubble – will be far more chilling for the NBA’s planned season completion.