The Washington Wizards left from Dulles Airport on Friday afternoon headed north for another playoff date with the Toronto Raptors. Before they left, John Wall, Bradley Beal and Scott Brooks talked to the media about a variety of topics ahead of the Round 1 series. Otto Porter Jr. (mild right calf strain) and Mike Scott (consussion protocol) are questionable for Saturday’s Game 1, while Jodie Meeks will be suspended 25 games for violating the NBA’s drug policy, per Woj. If Porter and/or Scott cannot go, Tomas Satoransky will play considerable minutes at small forward and Ramon Sessions could even see time at shooting guard in a pinch.
Point guard Ty Lawson is now with the team, but has little idea what is in store for him after he will have traveled from China to Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. to Toronto in less than 48 hours. Brooks called the signing a “great” one by Ernie Grunfeld, but is still unsure his role as the veteran gets acclimated with Washington’s play book. Here’s more from the Wizards’ last practice before the playoffs officially begin.
(Photo: Getty Images)
All-Star Backcourts’ Friendship
When you talk about the best duo of guards in the Eastern Conference, John Wall and Bradley Beal as well as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are at the top of that list. What many might not know is how close the four are off the court.
“Me and Kyle are very close, one of the closest people I can say I am to in this league,” Wall shared. “Me and DeMar is like brothers, we’ve been brothers since the first day we met. I even got with him in the summer time. Sometimes we go there and play together or go to his house and kick it with him and his family. That’s somebody that I would call my legit brother in the NBA. A lot of people you call associates or NBA brother, that’s one person I call, not an NBA brother, but a real brother.”
“A little bit, a little bit,” Beal said about knowing the Raptors’ All-Stars. “They’re really great guys off the floor. I’m a huge fan of DeMar and his work. He’s a great guy, Kyle the same thing. They’re just overall great people, great fathers, great men and two guys I respect. We’re cool off the floor, but when we step on the floor, we’re competitors.”
Paul Pierce’s Lasting Influence
Pierce’s lone season in Washington was a memorable one much in part because of his dominance over Toronto in a four-game series sweep. The Turth had 15.5 points on 57.6 percent shooting from the field and 58.3 percent shooting from deep including numerous clutch shots. The Wizards will be without the future Hall of Famer this time around, but the team is still reaping the benefits.
“His momentum, his focus, what he had, what he wanted us to do, what he wanted to accomplish,” Wall rattled off a list of what Pierce brought. “I think we kind of took that on from even last year being in the playoffs. Just when Paul was here, just his mental approach to everything, we kind of took that on as me and Brad being leaders and just trying pass it on to our teammates.”
“Being confident, being confident,” Beal said about Pierce’s approach. “Knowing that when we got up there, don’t expect any calls, don’t expect any fans, don’t expect anything out of the ordinary. Just got to go and compete and your goals are to go up there and win, straight business trip. We’re locked in since yesterday in our meeting so every day is a day to take care of our body, correct our mental, and do whatever it takes to get wins. When we had Paul, Paul was a great leader for us. His approach and his preparation for the playoffs is something we all admired and cherished as well. Something that continues to add to our team as years go.”
If Pierce was on this team this season, maybe Washington would not have their well-documented woes against sub-.500 teams, but Brooks thinks that will be a thing of the regular season only.
“You always have to make winning basketball plays,” Brooks said. “The playoffs, everything is just magnified. Every possession. You just can’t have the low effort, the low energy, the low care level, but in the playoffs, it very rarely happens. We know we have to make a lot of winning plays.”
2015 ≠ 2018
Much has been made about how the Wizards swept the Raptors three years ago so they should be able to win again. They can win again and there are some similarities in the core of each team’s roster, but there is also a lot of change.
“No, not even close,” Wall said about possible similarities between this series and three years ago. “They got different guys, guys got better on their team, we got different guys, people got better on our team, different coaching staff so, no, has nothing to do with it.”
“Experience, maturity,” Beal listed as differences between this Raptors team and the one the Wizards swept three years ago. “A lot of stuff, guys got better. Guys improved, added some pieces, they have one of the best benches in the league. They’re really good, they’re really good. They’re talented, they’ve been having some momentum the last month, really pretty much since All-Star they’ve been playing really well. We just got to make sure we’re ready to go, we know that they will be.”
“A lot because this was a team who was predicated on getting to the basket, inside presence, midrange jumpers,” Beal said about Toronto’s changes. “Now they have guys who can shoot the three, DeMar is shooting more threes now so we got to be cognizant of it all. Know guys tendencies, know our personnel, and making sure that we’re locked in and taking those threes out the game because they shoot like 30-plus a game.”
John Wall Joins The Party
In the regular season, Washington and Toronto split the season series two-games apiece. All four of those games were without John Wall as he dealt with injuries each time. That is not going to impact what Wall is able to do against Toronto, but has potentially given Beal a chance to adapt to more aggressive defense against him.
“For me, it’s funny, it’s weird, but I think they already know what I’m capable of, I know what those guys are capable of,” Wall expressed. “I know what type of defenses they can run. They might change things up depending on how games are going or how I’m playing, but I’m just trying to go out there and help my team and just feed off of the energy that they have when they beat those guys and played against those guys.”
“They switched it up a lot, they had a lot of different guys guarding me,” Beal explained. “They would blitz me a lot, switching a lot. Just being prepared for everything. Be aggressive up on the picks, force it out of my hands. I’ll be aggressive coming out from the start and continue to be aggressive.”
X-Factors and Superstars
Scott Brooks says that role players have to be stars in their role even if it is for just five or seven minutes. Kelly Olynyk showed that in Game 7 left season for Boston and Washington is hoping to unlock their own versions this season. Wall shared his thoughts on who could play such a role, but then also explained that it is on his shoulders when the game is on the line.
“Mike Scott and Tomas,” Wall instantly responded when asked who could be x-factors for Washington. “I feel like those two guys are gonna be key x-factors for us. They switch a lot in pick-and-rolls, Mike Scott can score in the post, can make plays and pass. And then Tomas, just to play with the same competence he had when he started when I was out because we need that with our second unit.”
“Bench is going to be a big role in any series you play in, you gonna need those guys. Coaches have to be great, players have to be great, but your superstars have to be superstars. In the fourth quarter, they got to make plays for themselves and for their teammates to win those games. There’s always going to be one or two games when it’s one of the role players that come in and win a game for you.”
Confidence Starts From The Top
Wall and Beal have gotten grief for somewhat kidding that Cleveland was ducking them last season, but they are a confident bunch and that may just start with the man at the helm (not Ernie Grunfeld).
“That we’re really good when healthy,” Brooks said about a lesson learned from his second playoffs with the Wizards. “But we have a really, really talented team and our starting five has a lot of experience together and we have a lot of play making in that unit.”