NBA Play-In Tournament: Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards set to battle for final East playoff spot

NBA Washington Wizards Bradley Beal (Doug McSchooler-USA TODAY Sports)
NBA Washington Wizards Bradley Beal (Doug McSchooler-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards are slated to battle for the final East playoff spot in the NBA’s Play-In Tournament. 

And then there were two. After the Indiana Pacers eliminated the Charlotte Hornets in short order during Game 1 of the East’s Play-In Tournament bracket, and after the Boston Celtics punched their ticket as the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs by beating the Washington Wizards in Game 2, we now have our matchup for a winner-take-all (or winner-take-the-8th-seed) Game 3.

The Wizards and Pacers will square off Thursday (May 20) at 8:00 p.m. ET. The winner will officially be the 8th seed in the East playoffs and will face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.

Both teams will head into the game on opposite spectrums of confidence. The Wizards are coming off a crushing defeat at the hands of Jayson Tatum and the Celtics. After leading Boston at halftime, the Celtics outscored the Wizards by 20 points in the second half as they cruised to clinching the 7th seed.

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On the other hand, the Pacers are coming off an impressive win over the Hornets in which they never trailed and jumped all over them from the opening tip. Indiana was clearly the better team on that night, which will now set them up for an interesting clash against the Wizards.

The Indiana Pacers need to stop Beal

On the season, the Pacers went 0-3 against the Wizards. At least on the surface, that doesn’t bode well for this matchup. Bradley Beal averaged more than 30 points per game in the two games that he played in against the Pacers and Indiana still failed to beat Washington in the one game that Beal was out.

If the Pacers are going to be victorious and earn the 8th and final playoff spot in the East, they’re going to need to limit Beal (and that might be a bit easier considering he didn’t look 100 percent right against the Celtics). If both Beal and Russell Westbrook are going to have their way against Indiana’s defense, it’s going to be a long night for the Pacers.

Much as was the case during the first three meetings between these two teams.

The Washington Wizards need bounce-back games from Beal, Westbrook

Simply put, considering how well the Wizards matchup against the Pacers, this is a team that just needs to play its game. In their loss against the Celtics, both Beal and Westbrook struggled from the field.

Beal finished with 22 points on just 40 percent shooting from the field and 17 percent from the 3-point range. Westbrook scored 20 points on 33 percent shooting from the field and went 0-4 from deep. As much success as the Wizards have had against the Pacers during the regular season, I don’t believe that Washington can win the 8th seed.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks needs to open the game with the intention of getting easy buckets for Beal and Westbrook. He should try and get them in a rhythm early to try and set the tone for the game. That’s something that simply never came in their matchup against Boston.

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The Pacers and Wizards will battle it out for the final playoff spot in the East. While the Wizards may be the favorites on the surface, that’s the magic of a single-elimination matchup. And that’s what the Play-In Tournament has now evolved into.