Thursday, March 22 at Washington, 7 p.m.
Countdown to Tipoff: Pacers (26-18) vs. Wizards (11-34)
By Conrad Brunner
SCOUTING THE PACERS: When they've been good, they've been very, very good. When they've been bad … well, you get the picture. The Pacers have become a stock chart team of encouraging highs and depressing lows in recent weeks. They looked dominant in double-digit victories over the Sixers and Clippers but dormant in consecutive losses to the Knicks. In their last eight wins, the Pacers have averaged 104.8 points and a margin of 18.4. In their last eight losses, they've averaged 89.8 points and a deficit of 11.9. Finding consistency will be the key to the stretch run.
Entering their second back-to-back-to-back of the season, the Pacers (who face Phoenix at home Friday before traveling to Milwaukee Saturday) were energized Wednesday by the play of the bench. Newcomer Leandro Barbosa scored 12 points in his debut, while George Hill shifted from shooting guard to point guard and produced 15 points and six assists without a turnover. Tyler Hansbrough also continued his recent resurgence with 17 points. Indiana's bench has averaged 43.4 points in the last five games, up 13 from the season average.
SCOUTING THE WIZARDS: Randy Wittman finds himself back in the early stages of another rebuilding process. The Indianapolis native and former standout at Ben Davis High and Indiana University who finished his NBA career -- and started his coaching career -- with the Pacers took over for Flip Saunders after a 2-15 start. The team has been better under Wittman, going 9-19 including a 108-99 victory over the Nets Wednesday, but obviously hasn't turned the corner.
Struggling toward another high lottery pick, the Wizards shook up the roster at the trade deadline, sending shooting guard Nick Young (their second-leading scorer at 16.6) to the Clippers and center JaVale McGee (their leading rebounder at 8.8) to the Nuggets in a three-team trade that brought veteran big man Nene to Washington, along with Brian Cook and a second-round pick. Nene had an impressive debut, scoring 22 points with 10 rebounds against the Nets. Jordan Crawford, who has averaged 16.4 points since the All-Star break, scored 23.
KEY MATCHUP: It's clear the Wizards are trying to build around John Wall, who is having a solid second season and has come on strong since the All-Star break. He has a rare combination of size, strength and quickness and is the one Washington player with the ability to take over the game. This is an opportunity for embattled Indiana starter Darren Collison to dig in defensively against an elite talent.
QUOTE MARKS: "We've just got to try to do the best we can every night. I don't know if we should be trying something different than we've been trying. Some of it has to do with just being at home and being rested and the teams you're going against. Obviously New York was re-energized and re-focused by their coaching change. I just think we've got to stay the course, do what we do. We win more than we lose when we play our brand of basketball." - Coach Frank Vogel in the Pacers' recent inconsistency
INJURY REPORT: For the Pacers, no injuries are reported. For the Wizards, Rashard Lewis (sore left knee) and Andray Blatche (conditioning) are out.
BROADCAST INFO: The game will be telecast on Fox Sports Indiana with Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner calling the game with Brook Olzendam hosting the pregame show starting at 7. The radio broadcast will air on WIBC 93 FM, featuring Mark Boyle, with Kevin Lee hosting the pre-game and halftime shows.
INTERACT: You can get in-game commentary from this group of Pacers personalities throughout the game on Twitter.