The Washington Wizards lost to the Pacers 113-108 in Indiana on Wednesday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
Lost in the paint
The Wizards have had significant trouble defending the paint all season and that was what did them in more than anything else against the Pacers on Wednesday night. Missing their two best rim-protectors, Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford, certainly didn't help that cause.
The Pacers enjoyed a 74-to-36 advantage in paint points; the 74 points allowed representing a season-high. Tristan Thompson (17 points, 8-9 FG) did a lot of the damage off Indiana's bench. The Wizards also had trouble stopping Tyrese Haliburton (21 points, 14 assists) and Buddy Hield (15 points, seven assists) off the dribble. Haliburton lived in the lane, as his size and quickness overwhelmed the Wizards' backcourt.
The Wizards were led by Kyle Kuzma (26 points, 15 rebounds) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (27 points). Kuzma continues to look the part as the Wizards' No. 1 scorer with Bradley Beal out for the season.
The loss dropped Washington to 26-31 on the season overall. They play the Nets on Thursday in the second game of a back-to-back in their final game before the All-Star break.
Neto is showing signs
One of the positive effects of the Wizards' deadline deals so far has been the rejuvenation of Raul Neto. Neto has reached double-figure scoring in all four games since being moved into the starting point guard spot. On Wednesday against the Pacers, he had 10 points, eight assists and two steals.
Neto's 3-point shooting has dropped off from last season, but he went 2-for-2 against Indiana. He also did a nice job breaking down the defense off the dribble. Neto may be safe as the starting point guard for the rest of this season. Ish Smith is now in the mix, but that's it in terms of their point guard rotation. Neto was also ahead of Smith on the depth chart last season and Smith has been a back-up the vast majority of the time throughout his career with the Wizards.
Once in a lifetime
There was one play in this game that deserves its own category because it was absolutely remarkable. It was in the fourth quarter, as Deni Avdija's fastbreak layup attempt rolled off the rim. In came the 33-year-old, 6-foot tall Smith who rose up and threw down a two-handed putback slam. Smith basically never dunks, and on purpose, he said as much in an interview to NBC Sports Washington years ago. But in this moment, he decided to treat the Pacers crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse to a rarely seen display of remarkable athleticism and showmanship.
Smith's dunk aside, that wasn't the only missed shot by Avdija from close range in this game. Though they were contested, he's had some trouble with that this season. Avdija entered the game shooting a team-worst 65.4% within three feet of the rim. He knows it's an issue and his teammates are as well. During a layup drill at a recent practice, after Avdija tried a trick layup around the rim, Kuzma said he should go up stronger, joking that's why he's always missing them. In all seriousness, it's an adjustment he needs to make.
Maybe it's just a matter of going up stronger and with more confidence. During warmups before a game at Capital One Arena recently, Avdija threw down a really nice windmill slam. He's proven he can do it. Perhaps it's worth noting he entered this season coming off a fairly serious ankle injury, which could be a factor. Avdija also played well overall in this game with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Todd got some run
With Porzingis, Gafford and Rui Hachimura (ankle) all out, the Wizards went deep into their frontcourt rotation. Anthony Gill got 16 minutes of action and we saw rookie Isaiah Todd for the first time since Jan. 7. Todd has been spending most of his time with the Capital City Go-Go, where this season he is averaging 12.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He is shooting only 38.5% from the field and 28.3% from three.
Despite those percentages, he looked good in-person last week when he played for the Go-Go against College Park. It will be interesting to watch his development moving forward and whether it includes more NBA experience this season. The Wizards are going to be playing their young guys a lot more down the stretch and he is one of their top prospects.
It will also be worth monitoring because the Wizards haven't seen a ton of production from their recent second round picks in general. Admiral Schofield (2019) isn't with the organization anymore, while Cassius Winston (2020) has rarely played for them in part due to injuries. Todd (2021) is just getting started, but has intriguing potential because of his size and skillset. It's not all that often second round picks pan out, but certainly the Wizards will hope to hit on one every once in a while.
Porzingis is not going to play on Thursday night when the Wizards travel to face the Nets, meaning he will make his Wizards debut after the All-Star break. Their first game back will be a week from Friday at home against the Spurs. Gafford, though, is likely to play on Thursday. The Wizards could also get Hachimura back after his one-game absence, as head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said it's possible he will play.
They may also have Thomas Bryant despite it being the second night of a back-to-back. He was held out of the second game of a back-to-back earlier this month due to his ACL rehab. It doesn't sound like that is going to be the plan for much longer, unlike with Spencer Dinwiddie who spent the entire first half of this season on that type of restriction.