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National media high on Wizards' potential
The NBA season begins Tuesday night, with the Wizards tipping off their schedule on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena against the Sixers. Expectations are high for the Wizards to hit the 50-win plateau and compete for a championship after a strong showing in last year’s regular season and playoffs. Not only are fans hungry for a big season, but the players have high expectations for themselves heading into this year. WashingtonWizards.com asked several national media members their thoughts on the Wizards this season and what’s in store in Scott Brooks’ second year. They all admitted that the Wizards may not be getting the attention that the Cavaliers and Celtics are getting, but are certainly high on the Wizards’ potential to disrupt those who are doubting them. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr. are arguably one of the best young core's in the NBA, with a strong, veteran supporting cast around them and a head coach who knows what it takes to win. After falling one win short last season, getting to 50 wins is once again a big goal for this team. “I feel like they should definitely get over 50 wins, which would be great for them. Significantly over 50 actually,” ESPN insider Brian Windhorst said of the Wizards. “I see it being an enjoyable regular season. They’re just going to be more talented and more together and more focused than so many of their opponents, especially in the East. I just could see them going 21-5 or 22-4 in their Eastern Conference games at Capital One Arena. And then having the February conversation being what seed do they get? I don’t think this is a title season and all that stuff, but I think this is a season of enjoyment for Wizards fans.” Andrew Sharp from Sports Illustrated and the Open Floor: NBA Podcast agreed with Windhorst on the prospect of getting to 50 wins. The Wizards showed last year after a rough start that they have what it takes to be a top team in the East, but they cannot regress like they did a few years ago. “I think 50 wins should be the minimum goal this year, especially considering how much of a mess the rest of the East is,” Sharp said. “I feel really good about what’s possible this year. I think the big thing will be building on last year’s progress. There have been a couple of false starts over the last four or five years where it’s looked like they were turning a corner, and then the next season they just fizzled. I think this is a good opportunity for them to show national audiences and particularly other players around the league that last year was a not a fluke, and that this is where the Wizards are going to be, near the top of the East every year.” Brian Scalabrine, who of course played for Boston and now works for the Celtics’ TV station NBC Sports Boston and Sirius XM NBA Radio, admitted he was scared of the Wizards last season in the playoffs. The Wizards and Celtics went to an intense seven-game Eastern Conference Semifinals series, with Boston coming through in the final game. With only four returning players in Boston, the matchup is much different this year, but both teams are expected to be at the top of the East along with Cleveland. “They [the Wizards] could play Cleveland tough [in the Eastern Conference Finals], they could not get waxed like the Celtics did last year,” Scalabrine said. “Washington, maybe this year. They just have so much size, length, and athleticism. Washington can go to a conference final and really test LeBron.” “I was scared of Washington last year, and I’m scared of Washington this year.” Windhorst and ESPN TV color analyst Mark Jackson believe it’s on John Wall to lead the Wizards to the next step. Wall, who is coming off a career season and summer, enters his eighth season in D.C. The four-time All-Star is the leader of the Wizards and the team's franchise player. “I believe that John Wall has done a tremendous amount individually in this league,” Jackson said. “There’s no question about it. I think the next step is to continue to progress collectively as a team. He’s a leader, he’s a franchise point guard - franchise player. He’s in the discussion at the best in the business at his position. I think that people are underestimating the Wizards. We jump towards Cleveland and towards Boston. I think the Wizards are in that discussion. Staying healthy and dynamic backcourt. They have size; they have length; they have shooting ability. This is a dangerous basketball team. So, I think the next step for him is not individual because he’s in the discussion. I think it’s collectively as a team, the Wizards continuing to progress and going deeper and deeper.” Jackson's colleague Windhorst agreed about Wall's proven himself already individually, but his impact and even minor improvements are the difference from the team being an elite team, not just a winning team. Wall is at least a top-15 player in the NBA, and arguably a top-10 player. “John Wall is moving into his own of rare air,” Windhorst explained. “Three years ago, I think if you’d have a conversation of ‘Who is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference?’ You could have presented strong cases: ‘Well, it’s Kyrie Irving. Well, it’s Kyle Lowry. Well, it’s John Wall.’ At this point, especially the way he plays at both ends and especially how healthy he’s returned from both knee surgeries, John Wall is the answer to that question. Now you’re getting into the fact of ‘is he one of the best players in the league?’” “He is the guy who needs to elevate his game and be a difference making player who will turn the Wizards from a mid-seed team to an elite-level team. He has the ability to dominate and carry them through a playoff series. He can do it.” Preseason opinions only matter so much, but the Wizards have what it takes to validate these predictions. Wall and company will look to take the East by storm and show why they will once again be a force to be reckoned with in 2017-18.