WASHINGTON — John Wall knows how close the Wizards came last year to winning 50 games for the first time since the 1978-79 season.
The Wizards benched Wall, Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris for the season finale, a meaningless game against the Miami Heat, and Otto Porter played just 15 minutes. The team leader in minutes played was reserve guard Sheldon Mac, who played 35 minutes. Washington lost by eight and finished with 49 wins.
John Wall has not forgotten that number. And Wall, as anybody who has followed the Wizards over the years knows, is not one to forget near-misses or slights.
Here is Wall talking with 106.7 The Fan’s Adam Epstein at the Wizards media day on Monday:
You’ll notice one word sticks out there: “definitely.” As in, “[we’ll] definitely get 50-plus wins this year.”
Wall has never been shy, obviously, and it’s hardly a bold prediction to say a team full of young stars that lost only role players will win one more game than it did a year prior. But last season was also the best one Washington has had since that same 1978-79 season. Saying your team is “definitely” going to have the best season it’s had in nearly 40 years is certainly bold, especially when you add the Eastern Conference Finals prediction (or maybe it’s a goal?) in with it.
A very unofficial straw poll around the league would likely have the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics vying for the top seed in the East with the other of the two taking the second spot. But Washington and the Toronto Raptors are the likeliest contenders for the next two seeds, and either of them stands a potentially decent chance of sneaking into the conference finals should one of the top teams falter.
After all, the Cavs, despite having been to three straight Finals, just traded away their No. 2 for a player with a hip injury of unknown severity. And the Celtics have turned over the majority of their top players from a year ago, including Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson. So there’s room for each of them to struggle, even if there are far more reasons for them to thrive.
Fifty wins, especially in an Eastern Conference with very little depth outside of the top handful of squads, is a very manageable goal for Washington. The Eastern Conference Finals is a much more imposing aspiration. But it is very much within the realm of possibility, and one leap from Porter or Beal or Oubre and the Wizards are suddenly a team to be reckoned with.
If nothing else, you like the confidence from the team’s best player, right?