Sight for sore eye in D.C.
Will John Wall be able to accelerate the Wizards back to a winning pace in Game 4?
WASHINGTON -- Peering deeper through his first foray into the NBA playoffs, All-Star point guard John Wall is painfully coping with the differences between sight and vision.
His sight remains blurry.
That's the result of being raked in the right eye during the Washington Wizards ' loss Friday in Game 3 of their playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. By Saturday afternoon, Wall had met twice with a team doctor and left the practice facility wearing a medicated contact lens to treat the scratches.
With the upstart Wizards now facing real adversity for the first time in these playoffs coming off the worst offensive performance in franchise history, there's not much room for error as they try to even the series entering Game 4 at home Sunday.
"We know it's a series now," Wall said Saturday of Washington's 2-1 series deficit. "We win this game, and it's a chance to put the pressure back on those guys."
How successful the Wizards will be at deflecting that pressure will depend largely on the ability of their catalyst to restore the team's preferred pace. Washington's scoring has dipped in each of the three games against Indiana, plummeting from 102 points in a Game 1 victory to 82 in a Game 2 loss before essentially flatlining in Friday's 85-63 setback that left the Wizards defeated and deflated.
As the Wizards regrouped with a film session and light workout Saturday, they gave plenty of credit to an Indiana defense that ranked among the best in the league this season for being more disruptive over the course of the series. But Washington also insisted that some of the ineptness was self-induced.
While the Wizards were easily able to overcome Wall's shooting woes and inconsistent play during a surprisingly easy five-game series win against Chicago in the first round, some of his struggles and sporadic stretches have been far more difficult to mask against the Pacers.
Through three games in this series, Wall has shot 12-for-40 (30 percent) overall from the floor and has missed all eight of his attempts from 3-point range. Turnovers have been a bigger problem over the last two games. Wall only had one in Game 2, but it came on one of the final possessions after Washington squandered a late lead en route to a four-point loss.
After placing the bulk of the blame for the loss on himself after Game 2, Wall then committed seven of Washington's 18 turnovers that were converted into 21 points by Indiana on Friday. The Wizards' struggles extended far beyond Wall in Game 3, with the team's playoff-leading scorers Bradley Beal and Nene Hilario going a combined 9-for-33 on a night the team shot just 32.9 percent from the field.
It was Beal who shouldered much of the responsibility for Washington's sluggish play Friday. One adjustment that helped Indiana regain control of the series came when the 6-foot-8 and athletic Paul George took over the assignment of chasing Beal off his comfortable shooting spots on the perimeter.
Even with a 2-1 series lead, Pacers coach Frank Vogel said putting away the Wizards will be a major challenge.
"Obviously we have a healthy respect for the Chicago Bulls, and to see what they did to Chicago opened all of our eyes as it did to the whole nation," Vogel said. "We know we're playing against a great team here."
Although the Wizards' rotation has a strong veteran presence around Wall and Beal, the Pacers have predicated their strategy on disrupting Washington's young and talented backcourt. As a result, Beal said it has created a greater sense of urgency entering Sunday.
"A little bit, because we're actually down now and we've never been in this situation before -- we've never even been in the playoffs before," Beal said Saturday. "So there's a first time for everything. But we need to embrace it. We need to take advantage of it."
For now, that has meant taking advantage of the experience veterans have gained from being in similar situations. Beal spent nearly an hour on the practice court with Wizards assistant and former NBA point guard Sam Cassell in what was a personal workout and lecture session.
One of the biggest national misnomers about the Wizards is that they're young and inexperienced. But starters Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat played in the 2009 NBA Finals with the Lakers and Magic, respectively. Nene and Andre Miller were annually in the playoffs as teammates in Denver, and even midseason pickup Drew Gooden was a starter on Cleveland's 2007 team that made the Finals.
"What happened last game is possibly the worst we could have [played]," Nene said of losing Game 3 at home for the second straight series after opening strong on the road. "We understand you have up and downs. We surprised the whole league. No one expected us to be in the position we are. This next game, I hope we can make a shot, be normal and get a nice victory."
So, Washington's backcourt youth is surrounded by plenty of postseason wisdom.
"Everyone knows and accepts their roles," Wall said. "We've got a lot of great veteran guys and they do a great job leading us. We follow their lead, and we've done a great job growing up at the same time. Everybody is doing it together. We're not getting down on each other even though we had a rough night Friday. Everybody stuck with each other, told each other to keep competing. We've got a lot left in us."
Wall and Wizards coach Randy Wittman have communicated through some of the issues that have bogged down the offense the past two games. Wall, however, didn't agree with Wittman's assessment after Friday's game that he seemed hesitant and indecisive at times in Game 3.
Wittman believed other players didn't do a good enough job running with Wall to set the tempo early. Wall said he was slowed after being struck in the face in the third quarter and had trouble seeing down the stretch as Indiana outscored Washington 51-30 in the second half.
"I always talk to John from an individual standpoint, and give him my ideas," Wittman said Saturday. "We'll sit down again [Sunday] in the morning and go over some things I think he'll be able to take advantage of. I've always done that. It's nothing new today because of anything that's happened."
Wittman isn't concerned about the confidence level of his young stars after a shaky outing or two.
Neither is Beal.
"We still have great spirits," Beal said. "We're not down. We're right where we need to be."
That's why the Wizards are totally comfortable relying on the even-keeled Beal and the do-it-all Wall.
"I'll run my team as much as possible and try to get those guys going," said Wall, averaging 16 points, 7.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals in the playoffs. "I know my team feeds off how I get into the paint, get guys open shots and how I create for myself. Unless I'm doing that job, I'm not doing my job."
MORE NBA HEADLINES
- Kobe 'sore' but eyeing return in September
- 3 Hawks make ASG; Cousins, Lillard left out
- Sources: Magic on verge of firing Vaughn
- Lakers survive Bulls in 2OT to halt 9-game skid