WASHINGTON (AP) Even if John Wall and the Washington Wizards wound up in the same place as a year ago - eliminated in six games in the second round of the playoffs by the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed - they see plenty of differences.
First of all, Wall missed three games of the series loss to the Atlanta Hawks because of fractures in his left hand and wrist.
''If we didn't have injuries,'' Wall declared Monday, three days after his team's season ended, ''we would have been past this round.''
Said Marcin Gortat: ''John's injury changed a lot, seriously. It changed, dramatically, the whole series.''
Or as Bradley Beal put it: ''In my opinion, we should've won (that series) 4-1.''
And secondly, with the improvement shown by All-Star Wall, Beal and Otto Porter, the team believes it is on the way up.
''They've proven,'' coach Randy Wittman said, ''that they can play in the playoffs.''
Whatever changes might come this offseason, one key question will be the future of Paul Pierce. The 17-year veteran was credited with mentoring the team's younger players and the basketball wound up in his hands at the end of each of the last four games against Atlanta.
In Game 3, he banked in a buzzer-beating 21-foot jumper to win it. In Game 4, he missed a wide-open 3-point attempt that would have tied the score. In Game 5, he hit a 3 that temporarily gave Washington the lead late, before Atlanta's Al Horford scored the winning points on a putback. And in Game 6, Pierce swished a 3 that appeared to force overtime, but the shot was disallowed after a replay review showed the game clock had expired.
After that season-ending defeat, the 37-year-old Pierce said: ''I don't even know if I'm going to play basketball anymore. These seasons get harder and harder the older you get.''
His contract includes an option for next season.
''It's probably going to be the hardest thing I ever to do, is put the game behind me. But I know that time is coming one day. I'm not sure if it's this year or next year,'' Pierce said that night. ''I'll sit down and talk to my family and figure things out.''
Unlike most of his teammates, Pierce did not speak to reporters Monday, but his name - and upcoming decision - came up repeatedly.
''Who wouldn't want to have a Hall of Fame guy back on this team?'' Wall said. ''He meant so much to us.''
Said Wittman: ''I don't need to recruit Paul. What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don't think I need to recruit him.''
Other topics that arose Monday:
- Wall said he doesn't need surgery on his left hand; he will see a specialist in Cleveland this week or next.
- Wittman believes the Wizards lost some focus during the regular season, particularly during a 2-12 stretch around the time of the All-Star break, a lull that could have cost the team a higher seeding and home-court advantage during the playoffs. ''We got complacent,'' Wall acknowledged.
- Gortat said he dealt with personal issues during the season ''that definitely didn't help me to focus on basketball.'' He did not want to discuss specifics, saying only, ''I'm still trying to close out the whole thing, the whole case.''