In the Wizards' last game, on the road at the Cleveland Cavaliers, it wasn't a must-win. Saturday, vs. the Indiana Pacers at Verizon Center, it was but they succumbed to two late free throws by Paul George with three seconds left to lose 100-99.
The Pacers (33-30) win the season series 2-1 and hold the crucial tiebreaker with a month left in the regular season. George (38 points) led all scorers and was followed by Monta Ellis (17).
In their 10th home sellout, the Wizards (30-32) there for the first time in seven games and are 7-4 since All-Star break.
Bradley Beal (12 points) re-entered the starting lineup for the first time since the break while Garrett Temple (11 points) returned to his role off the bench. John Wall had his 36th double-double of the season (25 points, 12 assists) as Marcin Gortat (eight points, 17 rebounds), Markieff Morris (14 points) and Nene (10 points).
With the East so contested below the top two seeds, Cleveland and the Toronto Raptors, the rest of the field is wide open. The Wizards still have a chance to win the season series with the Chicago Bulls (1-1), Detroit Pistons (2-0) and Atlanta Hawks (0-1) to give themselves the tiebreaker edge which is the first criteria to determine seedings as well.
The Wizards had a chance to win it at the end but Wall's jumper was long at the buzzer.
- Beal and Wall went at Ellis repeatedly in matchups in the first half and it gave them results. Not the strongest defender and undersized, they were able to get going early until Beal went down with 6:17 in the third quarter with a sprained pelvis. Pacers coach Frank Vogel switched to Solomon Hill, who is bigger and a much better defender, in the second half and for most of the final two quarters the Wizards only had 23 points. Ellis defended Temple, who likely will be back in the starting lineup but the second unit which previously benefited from Beal's output. Beal logged 24 minutes before exiting.
- Provided he can play starter's minutes, Alan Anderson (nine points, four assists, 24 minutes) might prove to be the best option at small forward. The moment Anderson came in the game he hit his first shot, a three-pointer, on a catch-and-shoot from Wall. Another option that could be on the table -- if Anderson is pain-free with his left ankle -- is moving Porter to Beal's role in the starting five and slotting in Anderson. Of course, that would have a ripple effect with the bench which would lose some of it's punch.
- The rebounding issues that the Wizards had early on seem resolved. They won the battle on the boards 46-42 with Gortat's activity. Morris had eight rebounds, Wall six and Temple four.
- Down the stretch when the Wizards needed defense, they got it. Anderson was physical with George moving off the ball and when he reversed Gortat was there to bump him to slow down his movement so Anderson could recover. Morris created a steal when George made an entry pass to Ian Mahinmi cutting to the rim, poking it away for Gortat to pick up. Anderson was hit with a questionable foul call at the end that put George on the line to make the winning foul shots, but it appeared that he lost the ball on his own. It's noteworthy that coach Randy Wittman went with Anderson over Otto Porter (six points, 19 minutes) with the game on the line.
- Nene took an elbow to the face from Jordan Hill with 10:15 left in the second quarter on what was ruled an offensive foul. Nene had to leave but returned at 2:35 with a bandage over his right eye after he needed stitches. He made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Wizards ahead 99-98 going into the final possession for Indiana.