Preview: Wizards host Pacers Monday in crucial Eastern Conference showdown
The Wizards are back at Capital One Arena on Monday night, hosting the Pacers at 7:00 P.M. in a game with significant postseason implications. With eight games left in the regular season, Washington currently sits 1.5 games behind Indiana for ninth place in the Eastern Conference after a loss in Dallas on Saturday night.
Capital One Arena| 7:00 P.M. | NBCSW+ | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Russell Westbrook, G – Raul Neto, G – Bradley Beal, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Alex Len
Pacers: G – Edmond Sumner, G – Caris LeVert, G – Doug McDermott., F – Oshae Brissett, C – Domantas Sabonis
Wizards: Deni Avdija (right ankle fracture – out), Thomas Bryant (left ACL injury – out)
Pacers: Goga Bitadze (left ankle sprain – out), Malcolm Brogdon (sore right hamstring – out), Jeremy Lamb (sore left knee – out), JaKarr Sampson (concussion – out), Edmond Sumner (left knee contusion – probable), Myles Turner (right toe partial plantar plate tear – out), T.J. Warren (left foot stress fracture – out)
Wizards close season with crucial East matchups
Despite a loss to the Mavericks on Saturday night in the second game of a back-to-back, the Wizards’ recent winning ways have changed the landscape of the Eastern Conference Play-In race. Tenth-place Washington is now 2.5 games ahead of Toronto and a full three games ahead of Chicago for the final place in the Play-In Tournament. The Wizards are now within striking distance of Charlotte and Indiana, who rank eighth and ninth the East, respectively. The Wizards have eight games left in their regular season schedule, all of which will come against Eastern Conference opponents, including two against the Pacers, one against the Raptors and one against the Hornets.
The differences between the 7-8 and 9-10 seeds are significant under the NBA’s new postseason format. A full explainer of the NBA Play-In Tournament is available HERE.
Gafford earning increased workload
For most of the season – and more noticeably since the Wizards acquired Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline – the Wizards have leaned heavily on a three-center rotation where workloads vary by matchup and night-by-night performance. As the Wizards have turned their season around, Alex Len has operated out of the starting role, setting a tone in the paint in the early going. On Saturday, however, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks turned to Daniel Gafford coming out of halftime to give the Wizards a spark. In the third quarter, Washington mounted a comeback, holding Dallas to just 19 points.
“We needed a guy that was going to come in and make an impact,” Brooks said postgame. “That’s what I liked about it. (Gafford) came in and made an impact. The minutes are there. Whoever wants them, they’re going to have to fight for them and they’re going to have to perform…I thought he gave us good minutes that put us in a position to make a comeback and play better basketball in the second half.”
Since Gafford returned on April 10 from an ankle injury, he’s taken the largest share of those minutes with 19.2 per game while Len averages 14.3 and Robin Lopez plays 13.7 per game.
Pacers arrive with momentum from historic win
While the Wizards are looking to bounce back from a loss to the Mavericks, the Pacers arrive in D.C. coming off one of the most dominant wins in NBA history. On Saturday night, Indiana defeated Oklahoma City 152-95, the largest margin of victory for a road team in league history. With four minutes to go in the game, the Pacers led by 67 points, the most a team has led by at any point in a game in 25 years and just one point shy of the all-time record. Domantas Sabonis, who finished the night with a plus-49 rating, totaled 26 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists while Doug McDermott shot 6-8 (.750) from 3-point range and scored a game-high 31 points.