May 3, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) reacts to a call during the second half of game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the Atlanta Hawks. Indiana Pacers beat Atlanta Hawks 92 to 80. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana vs. Washington: Will the Real Pacers Please Stand Up

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After nearly losing a kooky series to the Hawks, the Pacers can now breathe a bit easier. Sure Washington is way, way better than Atlanta, but the capital’s team doesn’t present the same matchup problems that flummoxed Frank Vogel and his squad to the point of near collapse.

The Hawks flooded the floor with 3-point shooters and chucked away while the Wizards offer something closer to an exact copy of the Pacers’ style. Though playing Washington provides a host of challenges, they are more traditional challenges, so this will be a welcome change — and one that may even help the struggling Pacers find themselves.

Now, Vogel can stop thinking about rotations and just go back to what worked so well from November to February before falling apart ever since. That may not sound great — and it’s not — but I can foresee a situation in which a return to normalcy, after a temporary plunge into weirdness, helps the Pacers find themselves. Perhaps, after playing pickup ball for two weeks, the comforts of falling back into familiar defensive rotations will allow Indiana’s players to look in the mirror and actually see their former selves for the first time since February.

After Game 7, a reporter asked Frank Vogel whether other teams will look to replicate Atlanta’s success in spreading the floor. He said that he doesn’t think they will and that the Hawks largely did so “due to need.” Essentially, hoisting 3s was the Hawks only real chance given the talent disparity of the two teams.

The Wizards won’t do that.

They have a real, established plan to win in the NBA over the long term.

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Still, while it won’t be in an attempt to mimic the Hawks, the Wizards will shoot plenty of 3s. And unlike the Hawks, they can actually shoot them well.

John Wall is a drive-and-kick master. HIs ability to penetrate and score himself is enough to rip apart any defense at its seams, but when you add in his beautiful understanding of when to abandon penetration in favor of passing out to as shooter, his destruction potential multiplies.

Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland broke down just how many corner 3s he creates for teammates. Click through and read the whole article to get your edumacation’ing on but here’s the short version: No NBA player manufactures as many corner 3s as Wall.

This just highlights the importance of Indiana defending Wall with all five players while staying home on shooters. George Hill and Paul George — the two players likely to match up with Wall most — need to keep him in front of them while also preventing him from pulling up from the elbow. He is deadly from there. Just as critical, Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi need to be ready to protect the rim. They must get to their rotations quickly so the wings don’t have to drop and leave shooters open.

Again, unlike the Hawks, the Wizards actually make their 3s at a high clip.

Overall, D.C. was the 5th-best 3-point shooting team this year at a deadly 38.0%. That number is phenomenal, and the Bulls were unable to do anything about it, allowing Washington to hit 38.3% of its triples in their short first-round series. Most dangerous of all is Bradley Beal, who hit 1o of his first 20 triples in the playoffs against the Bulls. And we can see the success of drive-and-kicks in the fact that 90.0% of the Wizards 3s in the regular season were assisted this season. (Only one team, the Jazz, assisted on more). That number has jumped to 93.5% so far in the playoffs.

If the Pacers can’t protect the arc, they might be the next victim on the Wizards casualty pile.

Other than Washington having much betters shooters than Indiana, these teams are very similar in many ways. The numbers in the charts above bear that out.

Both teams focus on defense and struggle to score at times. The way each team’s offensive and defensive rating numbers are created are different, but the results are similar. Essentially, the ingredients are slightly different, but they are attempting to make the same type of sausage.

Most similar all is the fact that Washington and Indiana are two of the last teams left that rely on a traditional PG/SG/SF/PF/C structure. In some ways, D.C. is even more old school, starting two big, bruising giants inside in Marcin Gortat and Nene.

The Brazilian was in rampage mode throughout the first round, so David West will have a handful with him and Roy Hibbert will need to continue to show the resurgence he displayed in Game 7 to handle the Polish Hammer.

But the mere idea that the Wizards play traditional should be helpful to Indiana’s (at times) great defense. It will allow the bigs to fall into their usual roles rather than trying to teach themselves new habits on the fly.

Having Beal and Ariza on the wings, too, will allow Lance Stephenson and Paul George to defend the types of players they’re accustomed to covering. And knowing that the big fellas are behind them protecting the paint will allow them to play defense the way they did all year. That will be much easier that trying to operate against Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver in an ad-hoc creation designed to stop Atlanta’s shooters from getting open.

So here we are.

The number-one seed survived a strange first-round matchup, and looked horrible doing it until Game 7.  But now there are no more excuses. The Wizards play exactly how the Pacers are set up to defend.

If they can’t beat the Wizards — a good team who is playing its best at the best time — they truly don’t deserve to be here.

We’ve spilt an absurd amount of ink over the past three months trying to diagnose and explain the Pacers’ problems. But here is where we actually discover how deep the issues go.

Can the Pacers find themselves against a team tailor made for them to defend? Or are they too far gone, still plunging into an infinite abyss of disarray?

Tonight, we start to find out.

Tags: Indiana Pacers

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