Dipping approval rating in D.C.


WASHINGTON -- The symptoms are eerily familiar.

It was only a couple days ago when one group of players and coaches was struggling to explain itself after a demoralizing home loss, facing questions about its depleted confidence and desperately trying to salvage any sliver of remaining confidence from its slumping All-Star.

Back then, those players were the Indiana Pacers who were coming off their third home loss in the playoffs, having yet again fallen into another series deficit right from the start and at a loss trying to figure out how 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert had essentially vanished.

Since then, the Pacers have taken two major steps toward finding themselves again, and, in the process, they've taken a 2-1 series lead against the Washington Wizards after a historic defensive performance in Friday's 85-63 victory that left the teams in opposite roles.

Now, it's the Pacers who watched the final seconds of a game tick down as boos from a disappointed home crowd cascaded on the court. It's now the Wizards, darlings of the first round after destroying the Chicago Bulls in five games, battling their first dose of adversity and doubt this postseason after setting a franchise record for fewest points in a game.

And now, it's Washington's All-Star point guard,  John Wall, struggling to regain his footing while sinking in the postseason quicksand on the heels of his second consecutive poor performance leading to a loss.

"We had great regular-season success by being a dominant defensive team," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel, whose team is playing with a series lead for the first time this postseason.

"That's sort of what our identity is. As you get further and further into the playoffs, it becomes tougher, and your margin for error is more slim. I just don't think there's going to be any kind of letdown. It's a good win, but we're in no way satisfied. We've got to keep coming back for more in Game 4 [Sunday]."

This was Vogel being three things he hasn't been afforded much of an opportunity to be in recent months: relaxed, candid and confident. There also haven't been many moments during that span when the Pacers have put together consecutive promising games to resemble the team that jumped out to the league's best record and were on the verge of a dominant season before the All-Star break.

Since stumbling through a seven-game series win against the  Atlanta Hawks in the first round and losing Game 1 at home to the Wizards on Monday, the Pacers seem to be in the process of regrouping. They've won four of their past five playoff games since falling behind 3-2 against the Hawks.

And now, they appear to be gaining control of this series against the upstart Wizards. That process started Wednesday with recommitting to establishing Hibbert offensively, in a game in which he had a season-high 28 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in an 86-82 victory to even the series.

Before Friday's game, likely in an attempt to temper some of the expectations with Hibbert, Vogel said he anticipated his center's production in Game 3 falling somewhere between his dominance in Game 2 and the dour effort in the series opener, in which he went scoreless and without a rebound.

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