INDIANAPOLIS — If the Wizards come back from the All-Star break without missing a beat, the nation’s eyes will soon be glued to Washington, D.C.
Something special is happening in our nation’s capital – the Wizards are just five games behind the defending champion, first-place Cleveland Cavaliers, and they are playing some of the best basketball in the NBA over the past six weeks.
“I’ve never been this close to winning this many games in my career,” guard John Wall said. “Even after a bad start (to the season) – we had an opportunity and had a lot of home games and took advantage of that. We’re a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence and playing (well) on both ends of the floor.”
Wall scored 20 points and added 12 assists, Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers, finished with 25 points and eight rebounds, and the Wizards won their fourth straight, 111-98 over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night.
Washington (34-21) is 18-5 since the beginning of January. On Thursday night, the Wizards scored 100 points for the 22nd consecutive game.
Markieff Morris scored 21 points and Bradley Beal finished with 19, as each of the Wizards’ starters finished in double digits in scoring. Washington’s starters outscored Indiana’s 97-59, highlighting the lone takeaway from the Pacers‘ performance on Thursday night – Indiana should be thankful its bench came to play. If not for the Pacers‘ reserves tallying 39 points, the game would have been even more ugly for Indiana, which is currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak – the longest skid of the season for the Pacers.
Washington’s performance couldn’t have been any more dominant. The Wizards’ first three baskets were 3-pointers, and they ended the game having tied a team-high for 3-pointers made in a game with 15. Washington jumped out to a 14-4 lead that forced Indiana to call a timeout. The Pacers turned the ball over eight times in the first half, resulting in 15 points for the Wizards, who would lead the entire game and by as many as 19 points.
Despite Indiana creeping back into the game in the fourth quarter, cutting the Wizards’ lead to seven points, the Pacers never truly threatened. Myles Turner finished with 17 points and nine rebounds for Indiana. Paul George scored 17 points, and Jeff Teague had six points, six rebounds and five assists for Indiana (29-28).
The Pacers will return from the All-Star break and face three of the Western Conference’s top six teams in their first four games back, facing Memphis at home and then Houston and San Antonio on the road after a trip to Miami. After a seven-game winning streak was snapped by the Cavaliers on Feb. 8, the Pacers have looked incompetent at times.
“We keep showing them things we need to do to commit. We see it on tape and talk about the mindset we need to change,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “It’s got to hurt when you lose a game. It’s not acceptable to let it roll off your shoulders. Tonight’s loss, we looked a little flat.”
Washington, on the other hand, is surging. The Wizards will have a similar test when they return from the All-Star break. After they face the 76ers, the Wizards will play the Jazz and the Warriors – both Western Conference playoff teams – before a home-and-home with the Eastern Conference’s fourth-place Toronto Raptors at the beginning of March.
“We knew we had to come (to Indiana) and play a good basketball game and we did,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “We wanted to finish this first half strong and now it’s time to enjoy the break, come back recharged and get ready for the second half of the season.”
The Pacers head into the All-Star break having finished one of the toughest stretches on their schedule. The recent stretch of games would cause fits for almost every team in the NBA. During the six-game losing streak, the Pacers played the Wizards and Cavaliers twice each, Milwaukee on the second night of a back-to-back and the Spurs.
Porter’s six 3-pointers were one shy of Bradley Beal’s season high by a Wizards player.
Wall recorded his 34th career game with 10 or more assists and the 35th double-double of his career.
Indiana is 8-21 when trailing at halftime.
The Wizards travel to Philadelphia and the Pacers host Memphis, both on Feb. 24.
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