WASHINGTON — After starting 2-8, the 49-33 Wizards made an unheralded turnaround, nearly pulling off a 50-win season en route to the franchise’s best record in 38 years, since the 1978-79 Bullets won 54 games.
John Wall, Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris all sat out the final regular season game, a 110-102 loss to the Miami Heat, on Wednesday. Wall also missed the Wizards’ 49th win, a four-point victory over the Pistons on Monday.
He’s been resting a bruise, he says, but assures, after seven full days’ rest, he’ll be ready to go for their playoff opener against Atlanta on Sunday.
During a Friday appearance with 106.7 the Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, Wall was asked if he lobbied head coach Scott Brooks to play in the regular season finale in an effort to reach 50 wins.
“I definitely wanted to play in Detroit, but God needed my tithe. The bruise was that bad, that I couldn’t run,” Wall said. “So I didn’t play in the last game. Coach just sat us out. We all wanted to get to 50, thought we had a great opportunity, but we can’t knock off a heck of a season that we had of getting 49 wins.”
The Wizards enter the playoffs as the four-seed in the east, pitting them against fifth-seed Atlanta, a rematch of their six-game Eastern Conference Semifinals battle in 2014. Asked who needs to step up to ensure a deep playoff run, Wall looked to the bench.
“Kelly Oubre,” he said. “Kelly Oubre’s a really good x-factor for our team. Sometimes we go small ball and the way he comes in and can play defensively, guarding multiple positions, being able to slide to the basket like Otto [Porter] and be able to knock down corner threes for us is going to be key. I already told him all season, he’s always the x-factor to our team, and when he plays well off the bench, we’re a good team.”
Charles Barkley recently asserted the Wizards may be the only team out of the east capable of beating the Cavaliers (51-31), who notably finished second in the conference behind Boston (53-29), in the playoffs.
“The only team in my opinion who can beat — I don’t know if they can beat them — who thinks they have the confidence to beat the Cavaliers is the Wizards,” Barkley said Monday on TNT. “So, if Boston gets number one, [the Celtics] would play the Wizards in the second round.”
The Wizards, as Wall noted, wouldn’t even have a chance to face the Cavs until the conference finals. So while there’s no use in looking ahead, the Wizards fear no team in the east, he said.
“We’re not scared of any team. We know their team has LeBron,” Wall said. “We know [LeBron has been] in every final in the last six, seven years, so he’s not fazed by anything. Everybody’s making a big deal about him getting checked and that’s not fazing him. He’s been through every situation you could basically ask to be in in an NBA career, so nothing’s going to faze him.”
“But we have a lot of confidence in this locker room that whoever we play… we have to get through a lot of teams, Atlanta and whoever wins the next round, first, to even talk about that,” he said. “But we have confidence that we can compete against any team. If we go out there and play Washington Wizards basketball, and don’t worry about what the other team’s doing, we feel like we can compete against anybody and win each series.”
Wall stopped short of serving up any lofty quotes when solicited for a message to Wizards fans. The time for talk is over.
“Just come enjoy the ride. We have a great team here,” he said. “We feel like this is a big year for us, a special year for us. We have to go out there and do all the playing on the court without all the talking. So I’m not wanting to talk so much, I just go out there and compete.”
“But it should be fun,” he said. “It’s great to have the opportunity to have our first playoff game here at home instead of being on the road like the last two years. So I’m ready for Sunday and I think the whole team is.”