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Inexperienced Wizards believe they’re ready for playoff challenge

- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2014

For weeks, John Wall has talked about the importance of playing a game "the right way." He has discussed the need to make shots, to play defense, to be resilient.

Those are all things he has learned during his four years with the Wizards, and those are all things he thinks will be easy to accomplish in the postseason.

"I'd like to sit him down and really give him an opportunity to understand what this is all going to be like, but you know, you've got to experience it," said coach Randy Wittman. "You can't talk about it. It doesn't even come close."

Wall and the Wizards will embark upon their first playoff journey on Sunday, when, as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, they begin a best-of-seven series against the Chicago Bulls on the road at United Center.

It will be the first playoff appearance in six years for the Wizards, who last qualified for the postseason in 2008 and lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in the first round. Only eight Wizards players have played in a postseason game, none of them in Washington.

They'll run into one of the more experienced playoff teams in the Bulls, who have qualified for the playoffs each of the last five seasons with a core of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and the injured Derrick Rose.

"I think that's definitely their advantage," said forward Marcin Gortat, who played in the playoffs with the Orlando Magic during his first three years in the league. "They have a lot of players that have been in playoffs. They had big battles. You know, the core of that team is together for many, many years right now, and they fought a lot to get here."

The Bulls (48-34) overcame a season-ending injury to Rose, who tore the medial meniscus in his right knee after 10 games, and weathered the trade of versatile forward Luol Deng to the Cavaliers in early January.

Washington, likewise, had its own growing pains. The Wizards (43-38) battled inconsistency throughout much of the season, finally emerging with a winning record for the first time in early February. They finished the season with victories in eight of their last 11 games, including a four-game winning streak.

While they managed to defeat the Bulls on two other occasions during the season, it was a 96-78 loss at Verizon Center on April 5 that humbled the Wizards. Chicago tore out to a 28-point lead at halftime and the Wizards, who admitted afterward they were worn down by the Bulls, could not recover.

"We can't look at it [as a concern] because it's a whole new series," Wall said. "It's 0-0 now, so those games doesn't matter. You just focus on what you did good against those guys and what you did bad and to not do it again."

The Bulls' defense allowed a league-best 91.8 points per game during the regular season and has, for four years under coach Tom Thibodeau, been their strength. Washington also takes pride in its defense, and it believes it has the perfect antidote in an aggressive transition game.

Yet the Wizards won't know for sure until the playoffs begin.

"We can play the half-court game also, but we're a team that likes to play with pace," Wall said. "We like to get the scoring into the 90s. It's all about being defensive-minded. That's how I think it's going to go."

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