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Wizards cruise past Pacers in opener

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Washington Wizards are finding the magic on their opponents’ home courts.

The Wizards won all three games at Chicago’s United Center in their five-game win over the Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs. On Monday night, they slapped around the Indiana Pacers in the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Guard Bradley Beal scored a game-high 25 points, forward Trevor Ariza converted all six 3-point shots he took and scored 22 points, and the Wizards defeated the Pacers 102-96.

The Wizards had lost each of their previous 12 games in Indianapolis, dating back to April 2007.

“We know this is a tough building to play in. We haven’t won here in a while,” Ariza said. “Why wouldn’t this be the best time to come in here and get a win in the playoffs?”

Beal added, “We have great vets. We have a bunch of guys who have been there before.”

Don’t be fooled by the final score. The Wizards led by as many as 16 points and they trailed only once, by one point in the second quarter. Only three 3-pointers by Indiana guard George Hill in the final minute of the game closed the gap to six points.

Hill and forward Paul George led Indiana with 18 points apiece, but George was held under 10 rebounds for just the second time in eight playoff games. He finished with six boards.

“I thought we played with a lot of heart but not enough punch,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said.

Forward Nene added 15 points for Washington. Guard John Wall scored 13 points, and center Marcin Gortat contributed 12 points and 15 rebounds.

The second game of the best-of-seven series will be played Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Wizards hit 10 3-pointers, but their inside game was even more dominant. Gortat’s 15 boards and 13 by bench forward Drew Gooden led Washington to a 53-36 rebounding advantage. The only Pacer to hit double figures in rebounds was forward David West with 12. Starting center Roy Hibbert finished with no rebounds and no points in 18 minutes.

It was a continuation of the Chicago series, when Gortat reached double figures in rebounding five times. The rebounding domination led to 19 second-chance points for the Wizards. The Pacers had two baskets following offensive rebounds.

“They manhandled (the Bulls), and they manhandled us,” Vogel said. “If we’re going to win this series, we have to win that battle.”

“We know this is going to be a war,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. “It was a very physical game.”

“Our bigs were huge,” Ariza said.

West added 15 points. Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, who scored 12 points, and George shot a combined 8-for-30 from the field.

Hibbert was called for his third foul with 6:35 left in the second quarter. He missed the only two shots he took and committed two turnovers while finishing with five fouls.

“We didn’t give him a lot of touches,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said.

The Wizards closed out the first half with a 14-4 run that put them up 56-43 at the break. Ariza hit two 3-pointers in that stretch. The Pacers went scoreless for a 5:15 span from the end of the second quarter through the beginning of the third quarter, and they could not recover.

Stephenson scored nine points in the third quarter, leading all players, but he danced around the court in frustration when he was replaced following a hustle play in which he knocked the ball off a Wizards player for an Indiana possession. The mention of it after the game produced a glaring look from Vogel.

“Yes, I did notice his reaction,” Vogel said. “I can’t play everybody 48 minutes. You’ve got to trust the bench.”

A five-day layoff after eliminating Chicago in the first round didn’t hurt the Wizards. Washington started out quickly against the Pacers, scoring the game’s first eight points. Ariza scored six of them, hitting his first two 3-pointers.

A 16-2 run by Indiana in the second quarter led the Pacers to their only lead, 31-30. However, the Wizards quickly got things back in control after that.

“We called timeout and settled down. (The players) responded,” Wittman said.

The Pacers lost Game 1 at home for the second consecutive playoff series. They rallied to beat the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round, taking Game 7 at home on Saturday.

NOTES: Washington won 19 of its last 30 road games in the regular season. “You’ve got to believe you can go into any arena and win. Talent gives you an opportunity, but belief in doing it gets you over the top,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. … Indiana had trouble containing the Atlanta Hawks’ 3-point shooting attack in the first round of the playoffs, and the Pacers face another strong 3-point shooting team in the second round. The Wizards’ 648 3-point baskets during the regular season were the most in franchise history. They hit 10 of 16 in Game 1 against the Pacers. … Indiana F Paul George had double-doubles in six of the seven games against Atlanta. He scored 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Game 7 win Saturday. … Pacers coach Frank Vogel said he plans to rotate players in and out of the lineup more frequently in this series. He used 10 players Monday, and the Pacers’ bench outscored the Wizards’ bench, 33-15.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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