NBA

Improving Pacers will have hands full with host Wizards

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards went from losing the regular-season game of the year in overtime to the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers to needing an extra period for an ugly win against the cellar-dwelling Brooklyn Nets.

Now comes a more balanced matchup against an Indiana Pacers squad sneakily moving up the Eastern Conference standings.

The Wizards (31-21) meet the Pacers (29-23) Friday night for the third time this season and the first of two head-to-head games in the final week before the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. Considering their impressive play over the last several weeks, neither team might welcome the break.

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Washington defeated Brooklyn 114-110 on Wednesday after its seven-game winning streak ended with Monday's epic 140-135 loss to Cleveland. It appeared the Wizards would avoid the classic game hangover as they led the Nets 59-49 at halftime, but bad habits returned as they were outscored 28-21 in the fourth quarter. Eventually talent won out. Bradley Beal scored 31 points, John Wall had 23 points and 12 assists, and Otto Porter had 20 points and 10 rebounds.

"We came away with the win," relieved Washington coach Scott Brooks said. "We have to move on and focus on the next game. Two things happened tonight: We gambled because we wanted to go for steals for layups, and we didn't box out. Brooklyn got offensive rebounds, and that was the game. That gave them a chance every time we had the lead by 10 to 12 points. ... We're glad we got the win, but we still have to play much better heading into our home floor."

It's hard being much better at home then what they pulled off the last two months. The Cleveland loss snapped a 17-game home winning streak. In 2017, Washington has won 18 of 23 games overall since Dec. 26, including a 111-105 home victory over Indiana.

The play of Porter certainly has helped. The fourth-year forward leads the NBA in 3-point shooting at 46.4 percent. Against the Nets, his hustle saved the day as Porter continually came up with key rebounds and loose balls in addition to three 3-pointers.

"We wouldn't have won it. We wouldn't have won it at all," Beal said when asked about Porter's work. "I'm going to be honest. (The Nets) were the aggressors. They were playing harder. You know, Otto definitely saved us a couple of times."

The Pacers found a winning path since last losing at Washington, which dropped them to 15-18. Since then, they are 14-5, though ironically their seven-game losing streak was also stopped by the Cavaliers.

C.J. Miles scored 23 points and Paul George had 22, but the Pacers fell 132-117 to the Cavaliers at home on Wednesday. Indiana led 63-57 at halftime, but fell apart in the third quarter, outscored 40-18.

"At the start of the third quarter, you can't come out not focused and ready to go as we did," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "You've got to be calm in games like this. We got rattled. I think we separated and momentum went to the other side of the floor."

Pacers forward Thaddeus Young (sprained left wrist) remains questionable after missing his third straight game. Wizards center Ian Mahinmi, who played for the Pacers last season before signing as a free agent in Washington, is expected to play for the second straight game. The big man went 12 minutes against the Nets after only playing only 14 minutes all season due to knee injuries.

George scored 27 points in a 107-105 home win over Washington on Dec. 19.