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Wizards fall short, but show promise of a two-way team

POSTED: May 16, 2015 12:24 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Wizards On End Of Season

Randy Wittman, John Wall, and Bradley Beal address the media following a game 6 loss to the Hawks.

— For the fourth straight time, the game was on the line with the ball in Paul Pierce's hands. And as it did at the buzzer in Game 3 and with eight seconds left in Game 5, the shot went in.

But in Game 6, replay review determined that Pierce's game-tying 3-pointer was a tick too late and that the Washington Wizards' season was over.

The Atlanta Hawks' 94-91 victory on Friday ended their 44-year drought without a trip to the conference finals is over. The Wizards' 36-year drought continues.

Washington is one of only two teams that won a playoff series each of the last two years, but its season ended in the same place it did a year ago, in the Verizon Center in Game 6 of the conference semifinals, at the hands of the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed.

In the eyes of some, that's not progress. And John Wall didn't feel much satisfaction in the wake of his team going out on a three-game losing streak.

"In my opinion," Wall said, "it's the same. We lost Game 6 at home."

But the Wizards did something in this postseason that they didn't do last year and that they didn't do in the regular season. They put the ball in the basket. They were the most improved offensive team in the playoffs.

A team that ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in the regular season changed its identity and looked rather potent. Inefficient mid-range shots became 3-pointers, and 40 percent of those 3-pointers went in. It was like the Wizards finally discovered what the rest of the league has known for the last few years.

With more space to operate, Wall made it clear why he was the No. 1 pick in the Draft five years ago. No matter how the opponent defended him, he made the right decisions and the right plays.

With Wall out of the lineup for three games, Bradley Beal stepped up and showed why he was the No. 3 pick in 2012. He stuck to Kyle Korver all series and scored inside and out.

And with an opportunity like he's never had before, Otto Porter looked like a top-three pick too. He was a 3-and-D small forward, slowing down DeMar DeRozan in the first round and staying active off the ball on offense.

And suddenly, you realized that this team has a lot of talent. Young talent. Wall turns 25 in September. Beal and Porter each turn 22 next month.

Paul Pierce provided leadership, swagger, and the ability to space the floor as a part-time four man. And if he chooses not to exercise his player option for next season, he will be missed.

After the loss, the 37 year old said he's undecided about playing an 18th season, in Washington or anywhere.

"I haven't really thought about it," Pierce said. "I don't even know if I am going to play basketball anymore. These seasons get harder and harder every year, every day."

But whether or not Pierce is back, the Wizards will continue to build around their three young perimeter players and a defense that has ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons. And they now have the blueprint - more versatility at the forward positions - that can push them toward a top 10 ranking on the other end of the floor.

When you have a top 10 defense and a top 10 offense, you're a title contender.

"We know what we have to do, the pieces that I'd like to add moving forward," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after Game 6. "Brad and John are going to be here a long time. So we got to utilize what their strengths and capabilities are, and find the right people to put around them, which allows us to play the way that I think we were kind of playing in the [playoffs]."

Maybe things would have been different if Wall didn't break his hand in Game 1. If they grabbed one more rebound in Game 5 or if Pierce got that shot off at the end of Game 6, they'd still be alive.

Those things will run through the Wizards' minds all summer. But so will the promise of a more complete team next season.

"We just got to keep knocking at that door," Wittman said. "We're going to knock it down. I like where we're at."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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