Eastern Conference opponents jockeying for playoff positioning meet Saturday in Indianapolis when the Indiana Pacers host the Washington Wizards.
Indiana (31-35) remained in ninth place in the East after a 133-126 defeat of Atlanta on Thursday, but Washington (31-36) kept pace with its 131-129 overtime win against Toronto.
The Pacers hold a half-game lead over the Wizards ahead of Saturday’s matchup. Both gained ground on eighth-place Charlotte, which lost Thursday to Chicago.
Charlotte sits in eighth in the conference, a significant distinction for the play-in tournament. The No. 7 and No. 8 seeds need to win just one game in the format to qualify for the playoffs, while seeds nine and 10 — where Indiana and Washington are currently seeded — need to win twice in the play-in tournament to reach the playoffs.
“We got a huge, huge win over a playoff team, and I think that just shows we can play with anybody,” said Pacers guard Caris LeVert, who scored 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the floor in Thursday’s win. “If we play this type of basketball, like I said, the last six games … going into the playoffs, we can do whatever we want.”
Thursday’s performance marked LeVert’s third game with 31 or more points over Indiana’s last five.
Since suiting up with Indiana on March 13 — a debut delayed two months when renal cell carcinoma of his left kidney was discovered upon his trade to the Pacers from Brooklyn — LeVert is averaging 20.2 points per game. That is third on the team behind only Malcolm Brogdon’s 21.2 average and Domantas Sabonis’ 20.3.
Sabonis went for 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in Thursday’s win, while Brogdon missed his fourth consecutive game with a hamstring injury.
Washington, meanwhile, played Thursday without 13.8-point per game scoring forward Rui Hachimura due to an illness. Thursday was Hachimura’s second consecutive absence.
Bradley Beal, the NBA’s second-leading scorer at 31.1 points per game, scored 28 points in Thursday’s win, while Raul Neto registered a career-high 25 points.
Russell Westbrook went for 13 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists to record his 34th triple-double of the season and 180th of his career. Westbrook’s next triple-double will tie him with Oscar Robertson for the most in NBA history.
Thursday’s win marked a bounce-back for Washington on the second leg of a back-to-back, following a heartbreaking one-point loss to Milwaukee. The Wizards have won 12 of their last 15, a stretch that includes their 154-141 defeat of Indiana on May 3.
Washington also won the March 29 matchup, 132-124.
Saturday’s game is the midway point of a five-game road swing for Washington, which has five games remaining in the regular season with a magic number of two to clinch a play-in tournament spot.
“Definitely a tough back-to-back, but we prevailed. It definitely shows a lot of signs of growth and maturity on our behalf,” Beal said in his postgame press conference. “We’re just trying to build on what we have in front. We have a great opportunity, especially now that we’re going into Indiana.”
–Field Level Media