Wizards know path back to playoffs starts on defense
WASHINGTON (AP) John Wall remembers how good of a defensive team the Washington Wizards were when they made the playoffs in 2014 and 2015 and wants defense to be the foundation they use to get back to the postseason.
With new coach Scott Brooks preaching a defense-first mentality, Wall, backcourt mate Bradley Beal and the Wizards appear ready to buy in. As much as Washington can light up the scoreboard, the path to the playoffs starts with being more consistent defensively.
''Some nights you're not going to make shots, but your defense has got to win you games sometimes,'' Wall said. ''If we're a great defensive team, we'll be fine. But if not we'll go through the same problems we went through last year.''
A bevy of injuries and defensive off nights contributed to the Wizards missing the playoffs and led to them not renewing the contract of coach Randy Wittman. Enter Brooks, who hopes to make the Wizards an even better defensive team than he had with the Oklahoma City Thunder for seven seasons.
Brooks believes the Wizards have the athleticism and depth to be one of the best two-way teams in the league and he'd like that to be their identity.
''Defensive basketball, toughness: We want to be known as a defensive team that can score, not a scoring team that only wants to play defense if it has a scoring night,'' Brooks said.
Wall and Beal each set career highs in points, but that only led to a disappointing 41-41 finish.
Beal said they have matching goals to be on one of the NBA's all-defensive teams and want to lead the charge of keeping points off the board.
Wall believes this is the most complete team the Wizards have had during his career and knows the burden is on him to get them back to the playoffs. But he must be on the floor to do that.
''I don't want to talk about all the playoffs and stuff,'' Wall said. ''The most important thing is if we just stay healthy, we give ourselves a great chance.''
Some other things to watch as the Wizards try to get back to the playoffs:
NEW FACES: The starting five of Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat are back along with young Kelly Oubre Jr., but there were plenty of changes on the bench. Washington acquired guard Trey Burke, signed big men Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith and Andrew Nicholson and brought over 2012 draft pick Tomas Satoransky. Wall believes the key is players having and understanding clear roles. ''I think in the past we kind of didn't know what our roles were,'' he said. ''When we did, we were a good team. When we didn't, we looked (like) a bad team.''
HOME COURT DISADVANTAGE: The Wizards were just 22-19 at Verizon Center last season, and Wall has made comments about the crowd there not being as enthusiastic as elsewhere in the league. Brooks said his team will have a ''no-excuse mentality'' but also acknowledged there will be nights players need fans to pick them up. It's a two-way street. ''If we leave everything on the floor each and every night, our fans will continue to support us and back us and be excited about us,'' Brooks said.
MINUTES WATCH: Brooks already knows he'll set aside rest games for Wall, Beal and others to make sure they're not worn down. That's particularly important given the Wizards' injury woes last season, and Brooks is prepared and plans to hold players out of practice and do other things to keep them fresh.
BEAL'S BIG MONEY: After signing a $128 million, five-year deal, Beal has big expectations for himself - he wants to produce, lead and defend better than ever before at age 23. Brooks challenged Beal to make his teammates better as the next step of his career evolution. ''He has 3-point range, he can score in transition, he can put the ball on the floor, he can play pick and roll and he can be a two-way player,'' Brooks said. ''He can be one of the best two-way guards in the league.''