Wall, Beal set lofty goals for Wizards team: 50 wins, fi­nals.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY HOWARD FENDRICH

John Wall is a peren­nial All-Star. Back­court mate Bradley Beal might fi­nally get that sort of recog­ni­tion this sea­son.

What both of the Wash­ing­ton Wizards’ start­ing guards in their 20s would re­ally love to do is, at long last, re­ally mat­ter in the NBA play­offs — and stick around more than two rounds.

The goals, Wall ex­plained, are sim­ple: “Try to get over 50 wins, get to the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals, give our­selves a chance to make it to the fi­nals.”

How long has it been since this fran­chise won 50 games or reached the con­fer­ence fi­nals? Nearly 40 years: Wash­ing­ton last did ei­ther of those things when it did both way back in 1978-79.

A few mo­ments later, Wall added: “It’s all go­ing to start with me and Brad.” There’s no doubt about that.

Each guard av­er­aged 23.1 points last sea­son to help the Wizards go 49-33 and earn a No. 4 seed in the East be­fore los­ing to the Bos­ton Celtics in Game 7 of the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals. It’s the third time in four years the team in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal ex­ited at that stage (the Wizards didn’t even make the play­offs in 2015-16).

As ev­ery­one around them, seem­ingly, made big moves in the off­sea­son, the Wizards stayed with what they had, not mak­ing a sin­gle al­ter­ation to their start­ing lineup (Wall, Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Marki­eff Mor­ris, Marcin Gor­tat), while also hold­ing onto top re­serves Kelly Oubre Jr., Ian Mahinmi and Ja­son Smith.

“We know that we can’t re­lax,” Porter said, “just be­cause we’re back.”

Aside from giv­ing Wall and Porter new deals, all Pres­i­dent Ernie Grun­feld did to the ros­ter was ad­just the bench a bit, bring­ing in back­ups Tim Fra­zier, Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott.

“I don’t care what any other team does. They make change,

they make stuff to make their team bet­ter,” said Wall, who was sec­ond in the league with 10.7 as­sists per game and tied for first by av­er­ag­ing two steals. “We did what we had to do to make our team bet­ter.”

There was a pop­u­lar story line not that long ago that sur­mised that Wall and Beal didn’t get along with each other, didn’t en­joy play­ing with each other, would have trou­ble shar­ing the bas­ket­ball and figuring out how to win with each other. They scoff at that nowa­days.

“I felt like it was funny then, be­cause it kind of just came out of nowhere. I don’t know. I don’t re­ally un­der­stand it. We’ve been to­gether, this is six years for me, eight for him. That’s a long time in this league, es­pe­cially . ... We still laugh at it to­day,” Beal said. “We re­al­ize that he wouldn’t be where he is with­out me and vice versa.”

And the Wizards wouldn’t be where they are with­out the two of them. Now they want go get some­where they’ve never been.

One key is to get off to a bet­ter start than a year ago, when coach Scott Brooks was new to the team and the Wizards opened 2-8. Some­thing that could make that tough, though: Mor­ris is go­ing to sit out the be­gin­ning of the reg­u­lar sea­son af­ter hav­ing sports her­nia surgery last month. Porter fin­ished fifth in the NBA last sea­son with a 43.4 shoot­ing per­cent­age on 3s, a rise of nearly 10 per­cent from just two sea­sons ear­lier. He also av­er­aged ca­reer highs of 13.4 points, 6.4 re­bounds, 51.6 over­all field-goal per­cent­age and 83.2 free-throw per­cent­age. The re­ward was a $106.5 mil­lion, four-year of­fer sheet from the Brook­lyn Nets that Wash­ing­ton matched.

“It made me want to work harder,” Porter said.

The Wizards have not al­ways been as good at play­ing de­fense as they are to pay­ing lip ser­vice to its im­por­tance. Last sea­son, Wash­ing­ton ranked fifth in the NBA in scor­ing per game at 109.2 but only 21st in the 30-team league in scor­ing de­fense, al­low­ing 107.4 points. Even worse: They were 24th in op­po­nents’ field-goal per­cent­age, 46.6.

The Wizards open at home on Oct. 18 against the Philadel­phia 76ers.

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