Pacers vs. Wizards: Play-In Tournament odds, preview, and pick
The third and final Eastern Conference Play-In game begins at 8:00 pm ET on Thursday, and it's a true win or go home affair between the Washington Wizards and the visiting Indiana Pacers. The winner gets the unenviable task of trying to take down Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, the loser is lottery-bound. Odds and picks for this game are below.
Fri, May 21 2021, 12:10 AM
The Pacers looked like world beaters against the Hornets
The Pacers were completely dominant against the depleted Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday, pouring on 144 points in a wire-to-wire blowout victory. The performance was somewhat surprising because for most of the season the Pacers have been in turmoil.
After swapping Nates (Bjorkgren in, McMillan out) the expectation was that the new Pacers head coach would bring a Nick Nurse-lite revolution to a conservative Pacers offense. Instead, the offense has underperformed, and the Pacers' once stout defense floundered. Tensions flared and a damning report by Jake Fischer detailed growing animosity towards the first-year head coach among both players and staff. None of that was evident by their play on Tuesday. The Pacers were buoyed by the return of Malcolm Brogdon, who hadn’t played since April 29 due to a hamstring injury. He notched 16 points and 8 assists in just 21 minutes.
Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis struggled to score inside against Cody Zeller, but he ate the Hornets alive on the boards, in what ended up being an impressive team rebounding performance (54-36).
The Wizards were hapless against the Celtics
The Wizards, and in particular stars Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, are coming off a disappointing effort against the Boston Celtics. They proved utterly incapable of containing Jayson Tatum, who went for 50 points in a runaway Boston victory. Westbrook, who did not seem his usual dynamic self, went 2-11 on jump shots. The Wizards, as a team, shot a grisly 3-21 from 3-point range, with usual sharpshooter Davis Bertans missing all seven of his attempts from deep. Beal meanwhile shot just 10-25 from the floor and only got to the line for two free throw attempts as his nagging hamstring injury was visibly bothering him.
Momentum is on Indiana's side
If there’s momentum to be had it strongly favors the Pacers entering Thursdays game. But their absences are significant, not only are they still missing T.J. Warren and DPOY-candidate Myles Turner, Caris LeVert was a late scratch from Tuesday’s game for health and safety protocols and remains out. Malcolm Brogdon is officially listed as questionable, but that reads more as gamesmanship than genuine assessment. Brogdon certainly seemed to be moving better at times than Beal, though the Wizards' shooting guard did seem to warm up as the game went along.
The Pacers may have momentum, but Washington swept the season series behind the relentless play of momentum-given-human-form, Russell Westbrook. Westbrook averaged a downright gaudy 27.3 points, 20 assists, and 18 rebounds in 3 games versus the Pacers this season. He also shot 50% from the field and an eye-popping 53.8% from deep.
Why was Westbrook so effective? Because he completely outworked Indiana on the glass and on the run. Almost all of Westbrook's damage was done in transition and semi-transition before the Pacers could set their defense. The Pacers are the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA per Cleaning the Glass, so expect Westbrook to continue to pile up boards..
Domantas Sabonis was similarly productive though, posting averages of 32.3 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 9.3 assists in those same games. The addition of Daniel Gafford gives Scott Brooks a more athletic matchup to handle Sabonis if he decides to go in that direction. But Brooks has proven stubbornly attached to playing journeyman center Alex Len.
Beal's hamstring remains a concern
Beal, runner-up for the NBA scoring title, averaged 38 points in two games against Indiana, slinking into seams in the Pacers defense and scoring with ease. But hamstrings injuries are easily aggravated, and Beal was clutching his at times on the court against Boston.
Westbrook and Beal were typically guarded by LeVert or Aaron Holiday the previous three games, neither of whom could contain the Washington stars. Brogdon, who missed two of the three prior matchups, is the key. His return brings the twin benefits of having a more organized offense as well as having an effective point of attack defender that will limit Wesetbrook in transition. If Westbrook can’t run and Beal can’t jump, the Wizards offense will crater.
If Beal looked healthier, I’d like this line for Washington. But as is, I believe the Pacers comfortably cover.