WASHINGTON — Just when it appeared that the intensity of a playoff run was getting to be too much for the Washington Wizards, they pull off a solid win over the Indiana Pacers.
And the Pacers? They played so poorly that it made this week’s win over the Miami Heat look more like an aberration in some late-season doldrums.
John Wall scored 20 points, and Marcin Gortat added 17 points and 12 rebounds Friday night as the Wizards avenged two of their biggest losses of the season, never trailing in a 91-78 win over the cold-shooting, turnover-prone Pacers.
"We’re at the point where we can’t just get up for the Miamis or the Chicago Bulls and then come out and get doughnuts against the Wizards or these other teams," said David West, who committed four of Indiana’s 17 turnovers. "I just don’t know if we are handling success and being out front the right way."
The Heat beat the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, essentially negating Indiana’s victory over Miami on Wednesday in the standings. The Pacers’ lead is back to two games atop the Eastern Conference.
"The game Wednesday doesn’t mean anything if we don’t get the one tonight, and we’re back at square one," Pacers guard George Hill said. "We gave up another game where we should have won."
The Wizards, meanwhile, sit sixth in the East and are almost certainly playoff-bound for the first time since 2008, but their recent uninspired play had led to questions as to whether young players Wall and Bradley Beal had the mettle for a postseason push. Washington had lost four of five, with games featuring wild swings and deficits too big to make up.
"Our intensity level for 48 minutes had waned," coach Randy Wittman said. "And we’d lost that edge a little bit, in terms of we waited until we got down before we really played with effort and intensity."
Not so Friday night against the Pacers, who are responsible for two of Washington’s three losses by 20-plus points this season. This was one of those prove-yourself wins that counts a little extra.
"They had our number the first two games," Beal said. "They played way more physical than we did. They kind of did whatever they wanted to when they were at home, but once we got them here we did a great job of just hitting them — and we kept hitting them throughout the whole game."
Paul George scored 19 points, and Lance Stephenson had 13 points and matched a career-high with 14 rebounds for the Pacers, who have lost a season-high four straight road games. Indiana committed five turnovers in the first four minutes Friday and shot 35 percent overall.
By halftime, the Pacers were up to 10 turnovers. No. 11 came on the first possession of the second half, when center Roy Hibbert threw the ball out of bounds. After scoring in the 70s only once in their first 69 games, the Pacers have held below 80 in three of their last four.
"I’m tired of talking about it," said Hibbert, who went 3-for-8 from the field and had only two rebounds. "We’ve been in this rut for a month. I don’t know. I’ve made my suggestions. You take one step forward and three steps back. One game, and then we play like this. … We’ve talked about that for great length amongst ourselves, private team meetings, all that (stuff), and I don’t know."
The Pacers finished 2-for-13 from 3-point range. Stephenson went 3-for-13 and missed all five of his 3-pointers. George was 6-for-22 and was unhappy he didn’t get more calls.
"It’s just crazy," George said. "We played against a team the other night where if you breathe on the guy (LeBron James) you know he went to the line. I’m not saying I’m that caliber player, but it’s just frustrating."
As poorly as the Pacers played, the Wizards didn’t truly pull away until late in the third quarter. Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster hit 3-pointers in a 10-0 run that made the score 77-56 early in the fourth. Ariza finished just 2 for 12 from the field, and Bradley Beal was 2 for 13.
"We guarded our butts off," Beal said. "We didn’t necessarily shoot it too well, but we definitely defended."
NOTES: Beal played 35 minutes despite suffering a hip pointer in Wednesday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns. … Al Harrington accounted for all of the points in a 10-0 run by the Wizards over 2 minutes in the second quarter.