The Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 154-141 on Monday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
The Wizards have been playing so well over the last month that they not only appear likely to make the play-in tournament, they have a real chance to improve their seeding and therefore make it more feasible to actually qualify for the playoffs. By beating the Pacers on Monday, they have now won 13 of their last 16 games and they earned the season tiebreaker over Indiana, who after this game only sit a half-game ahead of the Wizards at ninth in the East.
Why not keep going? The eight-seed Hornets are only 1.5 games ahead of the Wizards now and the two teams play each other to close the regular season.
That might be getting ahead of things, though. The Wizards still need to clinch their spot, but after beating the Pacers, their magic number is only five. That means they need a combination of five wins by them or losses by the 11-seed Raptors and they are in.
If they can somehow pull off getting the eight-seed, that would be a huge help, as they would only need to win one game to get into the playoffs. If they get the ninth or 10th seed, they would have to win twice to earn a first-round series.
Westbrook made history
Perhaps sensing the importance of this game, Russell Westbrook came out a man on a mission. After his brilliant 42-point performance in the near-comeback against the Mavs on Saturday, he was somehow just as good in this one. Westbrook had only 14 points but added 24 assists and 21 rebounds. He is the first player in NBA history to have that many assists and rebounds in a single game.
Westbrook's 24 assists tied his career-high and his 21 rebounds set a new one. It was the seventh 20-assist game of his career. He had 14 assists in the first half alone and nine by the 8:49 mark in the second quarter.
Westbrook got his 178th career triple-double, which now puts him only three behind Oscar Robertson's all-time record and four away from passing it. The Wizards have seven games left on their schedule and he has four triple-doubles in his last five outings and eight in his last 10. We may be witnessing history in less than a week.
Monster first half
Led by Westbrook's otherworldly performance, the Wizards blasted the Pacers to the tune of one of the best first-half scoring efforts in franchise history. They erupted in the second quarter for 46 points, taking them all the way up to 82 points by halftime. That was the most points for the franchise in a first half since 1970, so 52 years. Fifty two years!
In fact, it was the third-highest scoring first half the franchise has ever had and the highest point total ever by a Wizards team, as the other two were when they played as the Bullets. The Wizards shot 57.1% and had 27 assists as a team. Consider the fact the Warriors lead the NBA this season, averaging 27.5 assists per game.
The Wizards, in fact, set a franchise record with 50 assists. And they nearly tied an NBA record with nine players in double figures. If Raul Neto (9 points) had one more point, they would have tied the all-time mark.
Beal quietly good
The nickname for Westbrook and Beal, which was coined by NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller and used by Beal himself, is 'Fire and Ice.' It's absolutely perfect if you consider their playing styles and personalities. Westbrook's game is loud and in your face, while Beal is just as productive but in a more methodical, business-like way.
While Westbrook was playing metal, Beal was playing jazz. He flew under the radar with 26 points, six assists and two steals. It was a good game, but not enough to help his cause in the race for the scoring title, as he fell below 30 points and short of his scoring average for the fourth straight game.
Gafford changed momentum
The Wizards were getting worked by Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis early in this game, as he came out with 11 points and seven rebounds in his first eight minutes. Alex Len had a fast start offensively, but wasn't providing much resistance on defense.
Daniel Gafford, though, was able to provide a spark on defense and also keep the offense rolling. He came out swinging with a quick steal that led to a Chandler Hutchison dunk on the other end. Then, Gafford got to dunking himself. He had 11 points in his first five minutes on 5-for-5 from the field. He finished with 15 points and three blocks.
Gafford continues to be a remarkable acquisition for the Wizards, who seem to have found a really good young center who can produce now and present a very high upside long-term. And perhaps underrated in it all is his contract. He's making just $1.5 million this year and is on a team-friendly deal moving forward, as he's due $1.8 million next year and $1.9 million the next. Few things in the NBA are more valuable than a good player on a really cheap contract, especially with two players making big money on the books like Westbrook and Beal.