Wizards guards Beal, Wall out to rid Dis­trict of play­off woes.

No D.C. team has won a ti­tle since 1991

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TODD DYBAS

Crammed into an al­ley off U Street, se­cu­rity held a small crowd back from John Wall and Bradley Beal on Thurs­day around lunchtime. Two Wizards cheer­lead­ers stood against a wall and G-Wiz, the team’s puffy blue mas­cot, soothed a busy-body Golden Retriever who came with her owner.

A tem­po­rary vinyl mu­ral of Wall and Beal stretched up the two-story build­ing be­hind them to pump the com­ing post­sea­son. Wash­ing­ton opens the play­offs Sun­day in a town want­ing for post­sea­son suc­cess. No Wash­ing­ton team among the big four pro sports has won a cham­pi­onship since the 1991 Wash­ing­ton Red­skins. No one in that group has been to a con­fer­ence fi­nal since the Cap­i­tals made it to the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nals in the 1997-98 sea­son.

“Re­ally?” Beal said. “Not even the Caps?”

He thought about it for a sec­ond while peo­ple clicked pic­tures of him stand­ing in a grimy al­ley, fa­tigued from a lengthy reg­u­lar sea­son that just ended with a plane ride home from Mi­ami the night be­fore. Wall and Beal are op­er­at­ing in a city that an­tic­i­pates post­sea­son down­falls. In the shadow of their vinyl like­ness, they thought about the legacy

of sports los­ing in Amer­ica’s power cen­ter. Can they break it? Will they be swal­lowed by it? Dam­na­tion can’t be eter­nal, can it?

Both Wall and Beal will be here for years. Wall has two years to go on his con­tract, and if the Wizards want to be am­bi­tious, a new clause in the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment could ex­tend his con­tract be­fore he con­sid­ers free agency af­ter the 2019 sea­son. Beal signed a $127 mil­lion con­tract last sum­mer. That cost makes him en­trenched in Wash­ing­ton sports lore no mat­ter the re­sults.

“Man, we owe this city,” Beal said. “That’s what goes through my mind. We def­i­nitely have to do what­ever it takes to get some type of cham­pi­onship or suc­cess back in the city. Not even just for them, but for our or­ga­ni­za­tion. We hadn’t won our divi­sion in a long time. We made some strides, we ac­com­plished some goals, but we still have a lot to prove and a good op­por­tu­nity to do it.”

The 49-win, South­east Divi­sion cham­pi­ons open Sun­day at home ver­sus the At­lanta Hawks, a team re­spon­si­ble for ex­tend­ing the Dis­trict’s con­fer­ence fi­nals drought. In 2015, Wall landed on his wrist in At­lanta late in Game 1. Wash­ing­ton seemed poised to at least give the top-seeded Hawks a full se­v­engame se­ries, if not beat them prior. Wall’s tum­ble caused five frac­tures in his hand. He missed three games, yet the chances per­sisted be­fore he re­turned.

“Hurt,” Beal said of how he felt af­ter­ward. “Heart­bro­ken. I felt like it was a tough se­ries we lost. We felt like it was one we should have won, re­gard­less if John was hurt or not. We felt we still had an op­por­tu­nity to beat them.”

“Brad stepped up his game and played very well, 25 and 7 as­sists,” Wall said. “[I] re­mem­ber Game 5, we get a block and [are] one re­bound away from go­ing up 3-2 and com­ing home for Game 6. I re­mem­ber all that. Paul Pierce say­ing, ‘I called game’ bank­ing his shot in, me run­ning on the court like I wasn’t in­jured. I re­mem­ber all that.”

Pierce was team evan­ge­list then. In the first round, he sent rip­ples through the en­tire city of Toronto with his play and mouth. Pierce scored 20 points in the opener at Toronto. With 16.3 sec­onds to play in Game 3 in Wash­ing­ton, Pierce hit a 3-pointer to vault the Wizards’ lead to six. Toronto called time­out. Pierce piv­oted and yelled, “That’s why I’m here!” His bravado sent Canada’s largest city into a tizzy. Back pages of Toronto’s tabloids la­beled him an en­emy of the state.

Pierce is gone and last sea­son was pop­u­lated with vet­eran play­ers on oneyear con­tracts. Only four play­ers re­main on the Wizards ros­ter who played against At­lanta in the 2015 East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals: Wall, Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gor­tat, mean­ing the team has never been more in the hands of its back­court.

Wall made his fourth con­sec­u­tive All-Star Game this sea­son. Beal was nar­rowly left off dur­ing his best sea­son. He achieved one goal: Beal’s 77 games were a ca­reer high. He was able to min­i­mize in­jury for the first time since 2014 and just the sec­ond time in his ca­reer. He also fur­ther de­vel­oped his game to help bol­ster his claim that him and Wall are the league’s best back­court, de­spite it still not be­ing true.

“It’s re­ally go­ing to come down to how well me and Brad are play­ing,” Wall said.

Wall and Beal were swept out of the al­ley as one on­looker yelled to them not to for­get about him. The duo won­ders if they can turn a dor­mant bas­ket­ball town into an up­beat one, flip­ping a fan base that has waded through ex­tended dis­ap­point­ment with an Are­nas blip here, a too-short-play­off run there. They are aware the Dis­trict is a Red­skins-first place. They share a build­ing with the top reg­u­lar-sea­son team in hockey two years run­ning. The Na­tion­als are again con­tenders. That leaves the Wizards’ an­chors jock­ey­ing for eye­balls, ears and cheers of their own.

“We want to be the first team to bring a cham­pi­onship here,” Wall said. “Peo­ple think it’s a long­shot, but any­thing can hap­pen in this league. The way the East is, we feel like it’s open this sea­son. If we just stay healthy, we just play the way we’ve been play­ing this sea­son and play de­fense at a high level, any­thing can hap­pen.”


Guard Bradley Beal and the Wash­ing­ton Wizards open the NBA play­offs on Sun­day against the At­lanta Hawks.


Wash­ing­ton Wizards guard John Wall said if his team can “just stay healthy” win­ning an NBA ti­tle is pos­si­ble.

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