The Pacers (40-29) took a flier on the 33-year-old Jefferson before last season as a free agent after he left the Charlotte Hornets. He has played sporadically this season, appearing in less than half of Indiana’s games and averaging 7.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 31 contests.
Jefferson was pressed into duty in Indiana’s 101-98 win at Philadelphia on Tuesday night when Domantas Sabonis sprained his ankle, playing six minutes and missing all three of his shots while committing two fouls. The situation, though, got more dire Thursday night versus Toronto when Myles Turner also sprained his ankle in the first half.
This time, Jefferson turned back the clock with 20 points and 12 rebounds in just over 25 minutes as the Pacers came up short in a 106-99 loss to the Eastern Conference leaders. Darren Collison had 22 off the bench and Victor Oladipo added 19 for Indiana, who are third in the Eastern Conference and lead the Central Division by one-half game over Cleveland.
The Wizards (39-30) are one-half game back of the Cavaliers as they try to win back-to-back division titles for the first time since a five-year run from 1971 to 75. Washington avoided a third straight loss with a gritty 125-124 double-overtime win at Boston on Thursday night.
Bradley Beal had 34 points, nine assists and seven rebounds as the Wizards rallied from a 20-point, first-half deficit. Otto Porter added 18 points and 11 rebounds while reserve center Ian Mahinmi had 14 and 11 as Washington kicks off a stretch in which they play five of their next seven at home where they have dropped six of their last eight.
Three keys to the game
Indiana needs a 3-point bump - After making 26 of 50 from 3-point range in wins over Atlanta and Boston, the Pacers have made just 12 of 48 in their last two games. They are 9-15 in games when they hit seven or fewer 3-pointers after connecting on seven of 24 against the Raptors.
Brooks calls out his team - Even Thursday night's win was not enough to placate Wizards coach Scott Brooks, mainly because his team started slow sluggishly against a Celtics team missing six regulars.
After the game, he let them have it, telling The Washington Post, “We need guys to play their minutes harder, that’s it. You know what, it’s time. It’s time for guys to come off the bench and play better. It’s time for our starters to have better starts, and it’s also time for our team to play well together and not just have a first and second unit. It’s a team, but they all have to do their part and it’s all connected with one another.”
Bogdanovic looking to end funk - If there was one player who was excited to head to Washington D.C., it is small forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who is a combined one for nine from 3-point range and two for 21 overall in his last two games while totaling eight points. He has found the range against the Wizards this season, hitting eight of 12 from beyond the arc and totaling 49 points.
Matchup to watch
SG Victor Oladipo vs SG Bradley Beal - While the Pacers have to ponder who they will use at center besides Jefferson, this game also features two of the best shooting guards in the Eastern Conference in Beal and Oladipo.
Beal had the kind of game the Wizards desperately needed from their leading scorer as John Wall continues to be sidelined. When Beal is fully connected with this offense, and no offense to Tomas Satoransky, that means running the offense, his all-around game is better. In the last nine games, Beal has had seven or more assists, he has shot 44.3 percent from 3-point range, 51.6 percent overall and averaged 26.0 points.
Oladipo is actually a better scorer on the road than at home, averaging 24.4 points compared to his home mark of 22.6 per game. But the biggest difference is in his 3-point shooting. The All-Star guard is shooting 39.1 percent from beyond the arc outside Indiana compared to 34.6 percent at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Indiana Pacers projected starting lineup
PG - Cory Joseph | SG - Victor Oladipo | C - Al Jefferson | SF - Bojan Bogdanovic | PF - Thaddeus Young
Washington Wizards projected starting lineup
PG - Tomas Satoransky | SG - Bradley Beal | C - Marcin Gortat | SF - Otto Porter | PF - Markieff Morris
Oladipo missed the first game between the teams due to an illness but had 33 points and seven rebounds in the win earlier this month. He has averaged 17.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 13 games but has made only 28.1 percent of his 3-pointers in those contests.
Jefferson had eight points and three rebounds in 16 minutes in the first game between the teams and did not see action in the second. His last double-double against the Wizards came early in the 2015/16 season, and he's averaged 13.6 points and 8.1 rebounds in 34 career matchups while shooting 47.4 percent.
Beal has had two distinctly different games against the Wizards this season, scoring 21 points on nine-of-16 shooting in the February win and totaling 22 points and 11 assists while making eight of 27 shots in the loss earlier this month. Beal has shot almost the same from 3-point range (39.4 percent) as he has overall (39.5) in 16 games against the Pacers while scoring 16.7 points per game.
Otto Porter has made 12 of 23 shots in the two games while totaling 30 points. That quiet efficiency has been going on for two seasons against the Pacers as the small forward has averaged 17.0 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 51.5 percent in the last six matchups.
There has been no line established on the game since Turner is a game-time decision due to his ankle sprain. Indiana, though, have enjoyed making the trip to the nation's capital as they have covered in nine of their last ten games there.
The Pacers have covered in their last five road games against teams with a winning home record and in their last four road games overall. They are 6-1 against the number in their last seven matchups with conference rivals and 12-5 in their last 17 when playing Southeast Division teams.
While the Wizards are 5-1 against the spread in their last six games against Central Division teams, that is one of the few trends in their directions with bettors. They are 0-3-1 versus the number in their last four at home, 1-3-1 in their last five against conference opponents and 1-5-1 in their last seven overall.
Washington are also 1-5-1 against the spread in their last seven matchups with teams who have a winning record.
If Indiana's opponents were anyone other than the Wizards, it would be easy to feel the mismatches in the middle would be too much to overcome. But Washington have gotten little out of both Mahinmi and Marcin Gortat of late, so the Pacers can definitely steal a win here if they get good perimeter shooting.
That means Oladipo and Bogdanovic have to be the focal points offensively and get support from Collison and Lance Stephenson off the bench. Collison's offensive game appears to be rounding into form offensively, and when Stephenson plays in control, good things happen.
Despite their inconsistencies, the Wizards still likely have enough to hold off the Miami Heat to win the Southeast Division. But it will be interesting to see how they respond after Brooks' comments. This is a team still trying to find themselves, and they can't hang their heads at the first sign of adversity. Thursday night was a good start, now they have to put together a 48-minute effort in this game.
That may not happen, but the Wizards will have just enough for a 105-99 win.
The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Indiana and NBC Sports Washington D.C. Tip-off time is 7 pm EDT.
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