Wake-up call: Maybe 1st round vs. Pacers isn't so bad

Wake-up call: Maybe 1st round vs. Pacers isn't so bad
April 7, 2014, 6:00 am
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Anybody paying attention to what's going on with the Indiana Pacers? So much is being made about the danger of the Wizards slipping to the No. 7 seed for the playoffs, but this could this be a better matchup than the Toronto Raptors or Chicago Bulls.

Sounds silly because it's reasonable to assume that the Pacers (53-25), who have slipped to second place behind the Miami Heat in the East after being dominant most of the season, will get their house in order. They've got to much experience to remain this inept this long even though they're losers of eight of their last 11 games. 

But then came Sunday when they were drilled by the No. 8 Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers only scored a franchise all-time low 23 points in the first half by making just 7 of 35 shots, or 20%. They lost 107-88. Center Roy Hibbert, an All-Star, was benched. In nine minutes he had no points, no assists, no rebounds and no blocks.

The Wizards (40-37) face the Charlotte Bobcats in a pivotal matchup at Verizon Center on Wednesday (CSN, 7 p.m. ET). If they lose, the Wizards also lose the season series 3-1 to the Bobcats, who'll move into the No. 6 seed by virtue of that tiebreaker. Charlotte would then be looking at a first-round playoff matchup with the Toronto Raptors and the Chicago Bulls. The Wizards would be matched vs. Indiana.

None of the draws is an easy one for Washington. There are pros and cons to all three: The Wizards have lost three of four to the Raptors; won two of three vs. the Bulls but Saturday's 96-78 drubbing gives one pause; and they've lost two of three vs. Indiana, where they have difficulty winning at BankersLife Fieldhouse. 

[MORE: Mental toughness will determine how the Wizards finish]

Pacers coach Frank Vogel gave this explanation for Hibbert's benching: "He looks to me to be worn down. He's a 7-foot-2 center who has played every game. With their 3-point shooting we decided to sit him and rest."  

Do you buy it? Have the scouting reports caught up with the Pacers and opponents have just figured them out? The Wizards blitzed them two weeks ago 91-78 at Verizon and they did it without Nene. While the Pacers can be an elite defensive team, Hibbert can be a liability when pulled from under the rim if the Wizards go small -- and they did this -- spread the floor with shooters. George Hill and Lance Stephenson are the primary ball-handlers but aren't true point guards, giving John Wall a decided edge there. 

Be careful what you wish for, but based on the way the Pacers are playing now -- and there appears to be locker room turmoil, too -- there's a chance they can be upset in the first round. In their last eight losses, they're not looking much like the team that made the conference finals a year ago. Indiana is averaging just 81 points in those games.

Like every year in the NBA playoffs, it's a matter of matchups. 

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