If forced to select one player the Wizards-Pacers second round series hinges on, the easy call is Indiana's Roy Hibbert.
The 7-foot-2 center played in this year's All-Star game and ranked high in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. The former Georgetown star also disappeared down the stretch of the regular season and for much of the Pacers first round series against the Atlanta Hawks. Yet Hibbert played quality minutes in Indiana's Game 7 clincher on Saturday.
The disparity in Hibbert's recent performances is reflected in responses from the Wizards on Sunday before the team headed to Indianapolis for the opening two games of the series.
Asked to explain Hibbert's dip in play, Wizards center Marcin Gortat said, "I don't know. It's hard to say. I watched the games. I've seen him struggling. You'll probably have to ask him, talk to his teammates.
"I'm hoping he's going to play the way he's playing now. At the end of the day, it's a business. I don't want this guy to come in and drop 20 and 15 on me. If he drops zero and two I'm cool with that."
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Hibbert had exactly zero points and two rebounds in the Pacers Game 6 victory over the Hawks. That came immediately after he didn't record a point or rebound in 12 minutes of action during Game 5.
Before the All-Star break, Hibbert averaged 11.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 46.4 percent shooting clip. After the break, 8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 39 percent from the field. During the first six games versus Atlanta, he had 24 total points with four blocks.
Then came Game 7 and with it, a return to form. Hibbert made 6 of 10 shots for 13 points with seven rebounds and five blocks.
"I see a big guy that had a pretty good game last night," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said when asked about the supposedly struggling big man. "That's all you can go on. ...Obviously, they're feeling good, he's feeling good. He had a good game. I don't read too much into where his psyche is. We understand what we have to do against him. If we don't then he's going to hurt us."
Atlanta turned Hibbert's Mountain of a Man strength into a weakness by having their bigs roam the perimeter, which forced Indiana into smaller lineups. Washington won't sit Gortat or move the 6-foot-11 center away from the basket often, but the Wizards can keep Hibbert moving by involving him in pick-and-roll defense.
Then there is the physical aspect, one the Wizards are quite accustomed too after a rugged first round series.
Gortat: "Attack, attack them. Make sure we throw the first punch. [The Pacers] like to be physical, but as far as we know, they don't like to be pushed and hit and stuff like that. We went through a hell of series with Chicago. There was a lot of physicality, pushing and hitting. We're ready for [the Pacers] now."
Washington's starting center is also ready for his interior showcase against one of the league's best. Well, one of the league's best assuming the Game 7 versus Atlanta version shows up.
"Roy Hibbert, All-Star player. Almost defensive player of the year," said the résumé reciting Gortat. "It's going to be a challenge. I love it."