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Pacers star Paul George: I'm better than ever


Pacers star Paul George: I'm better than ever

Paul George isn't just back. The Indiana Pacers star is better than ever.

"I think I am. I feel great out there," George said.

While his claim seems impossible -- we all remember THAT leg injury -- nobody is going to argue with the five-year veteran. Certainly not the Wizards, not after what George did to them Tuesday night in Indiana's 123-106 win.

The sleek forward scored 40 points. That's an impressive number and just three off his career-high. However, George's shooting in his first game at Verizon Center since the 2014 playoffs was otherworldly.

He sank 7 of 8 3-pointers and 14 of 19 shots overall. George filled up the basket and the stat sheet, finishing with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.  Defensively he took on 3's and 4's and even two-guard Bradley Beal.

The season is early, but George's averages of 25.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists for the 9-5 Pacers would all set new career-highs.

"He's a whole different animal," Beal said of George's current level. 

With their leader back in the lineup, the Pacers are a different team.

After reaching the Eastern Conference finals three straight years, Indiana missed the 2015 playoffs following a 38-44 regular season. George only played six games late in the campaign. He was busy recovering from the brutal leg injury suffered while playing in a scrimmage for USA Basketball. 

Recover he did, but he also improved and expanded his already impressive arsenal.

“Well honestly I just feel like I had a year to work on my game," George explained. "Most of the time, players get a good two or three months in the summer to get better. I had a full year of sitting out and just getting better, and just learning because I knew the changes we were going with.

"I was going to have to bring it. They definitely put pieces around me to succeed and it is my job to take us there.”


The changes referenced involved Indiana's identity. Similar to the Wizards, the Pacers planned to join the NBA wave of small ball lineups with 3-point shooters galore. For Indiana, that meant two notable departures: Hulking center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West.

Indiana entered Tuesday third in 3-point shooting percentage. These Pacers start four perimeter threats, including C.J. Miles at the other forward spot. Like George, Miles couldn't miss from deep against the Wizards. He sank 8 of 9 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 32 points. The pair combined to make their first 11 3-point tries.

"It was a special night," George said of the tandem troubling the Wizards.

With George back in play, the Pacers are back to looking like a playoff team.

"He's a special player," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of George. "We're obviously a different team when he's out there."

After starting the season with three straight losses, Indiana has won nine of 11 games including three straight by a combined 64 points.

"This team is starting to find its way," George said. "We're starting to have an idea, starting to learn each other. If we play fast and put pressure on teams, it's going to allow [our shooters] some easy opportunities."

The Wizards are well aware of what George can do with shooting opportunities. In Game 4 of the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinal series, he scored 39 points and made 7 of 10 3-pointers as Indiana rallied for a win and a 3-1 series lead.

"It's the same one I saw in the playoffs," Wizards guard John Wall said of George while noting the upgrades. "He just came out aggressive. He's not really the same Paul George attacking the basket, but he's definitely a better shooter than what he was before he had his injury."

Asked about his success in Washington, George smiled and said, "I don't know. I just love being in D.C. I've got to get the President out one game."

Perhaps that happens in the playoffs. With George back playing at an MVP level, the Pacers are headed in that direction.

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It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

The Wizards crossed off an important goal on Saturday night by beating the Indiana Pacers and therefore securing the season series. If the teams tie with the same regular season record, the Wizards will get the higher playoff seed. As of today, that would mean home court advantage in the first round.

Though the Wizards have beaten the Pacers in two of their three matchups this season, we only know so much about how they would match up in the playoffs. The first game between them didn't feature Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo and John Wall didn't play in any of the three games. The Pacers were without both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis on Saturday night.

Given the Pacers underwent so much change over the summer, there is no real data to go off of from before this season. They are a completely different team with Oladipo leading the way and Paul George now in Oklahoma City.


There are reasons to believe, however, that the Wizards would fare well against the Pacers over the course of a seven-game series. For one, they figured out how to slow Oladipo and his teammate Bojan Bogdanovic on Saturday night. Both had killed the Wizards in previous matchups.

Oladipo was held to 18 points, over five points below his season average of 23.5. He had four turnovers, shot 7-for-16 (43.7%) and finished a -18 in a game the Pacers lost by seven.

The Wizards had some success with Tomas Satoransky guarding Oladipo. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 with long arms. He was able to recover on several occasions to alter Oladipo's shots.

Satoransky and Bradley Beal also did a good job keeping pace with Oladipo on the fastbreak. The Pacers had only four fastbreak points in the game. Oladipo is especially dangerous in the open court.

“We just made sure that we were aggressive with him and made sure he saw a lot of bodies in the paint," Beal said. "The last game, he got a lot of easy ones in transition. We just made sure that we got back on the shot, loaded to the ball and forced the other guys to attack.”

For Bogdanovic, it was about limiting open shots from the perimeter. Bogdanovic had 11 points, three below his season average and had four turnovers. Beal and Otto Porter stripped Bogdanovic for steals and Marcin Gortat took a charge on one play in the third quarter.


But it was all about taking away the outside shot. Bogdanovic only hit one shot in the first half and it was a three. The only reason he got it off is because Kelly Oubre, Jr. lost his balance backing up. That gave Bogdanovic the window he needed. Otherwise, Oubre helped frustrate the former Wizards small forward. So did Gortat and Ian Mahinmi, who did a good job covering their teammates off screens.

The Pacers are an average offensive team, ranking 16th in points per game and 14th in offensive rating. They are better defensively, ranking ninth-best in opponents points per game and 12th in defensive efficiency.

If the Wizards can limit Oladipo and Bogdanovic, the Pacers' two leading scorers, they should have a good shot at beating the Pacers in the playoffs. Beyond them, the Pacers are thin in the scoring department. Turner only averages 13.6 points and no one else beyond him can consistently make an opposing defense pay for mistakes. Conversely, several Wizards players have given the Pacers major trouble through three games this season.

Gortat, who had 18 points and eight rebounds on Saturday, has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting against Indiana. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who had 16 points in 18 minutes, has averaged 15.5 points and is shooting 50 percent from the field.


In addition to those guys, Markieff Morris, Porter, Mike Scott, Mahinmi and Satoransky are all shooting over 50 percent against the Pacers. Satoransky is shooting 71.4 percent through three games.

The Wizards have the pieces to counter what the Pacers do best. Indiana is seventh in three-point percentage, but the Wizards are the best team in basketball in opponents three-point percentage. The Pacers are built around an All-Star guard, but the Wizards have two All-Star guards. The Pacers have a collection of talented wing players, but so do the Wizards.

"Hypothetically, I do like Indiana," Beal said. "I like how we match up with Indiana and I feel like there is a lot of stuff that we can take advantage of. In a lot of categories, I think we can win them."

Add it all up and the Wizards have every reason to feel confident if they see the Pacers in the posteason. Keep that in mind because they very well could meet up in the spring.

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

Here are five plays or moments from the Wizards' 109-102 win over the Pacers on Saturday night that are worth revisiting... 

1. The Wizards took care of business against the Pacers on Saturday night and in doing so earned an important advantage in the playoff race. They won the season series and therefore own a tiebreaker for playoff seeding and currently that would mean home court advantage in the first round if the playoffs began today.

The Wizards took control early and part of that effort were five first-half assists by Bradley Beal. He ended up with 19 points, but some of his best plays were passes.

On this one, he executed a perfect pick-and-roll with Marcin Gortat:


2. This was another pretty pass to Gortat. Tomas Satoransky, who had 12 points and eight assists, fed Gortat with a nice reach-around pass on a play that featured some impressive ball movement overall:

3. This was a great moment. The Wizards had a member of the military surprise his niece on the court. She literally did not see it coming:


4. These last two plays are dunks by Kelly Oubre, Jr., who finished with 16 points. On this play, he cut through the and threw down with authority:

5. This dunk was set up by a beautiful pass from Ramon Sessions. It traveled about three-quarters of the court and Oubre did the rest:

The Wizards now have three days off before their next game as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. Things are trending positive for the Wizards as the playoff race heats up.

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