Until late April, the only knowledge Bradley Beal had of playoff basketball came from one year in college, a high school state championship in 2009 and an assortment of AAU and international tournaments.
The NBA playoffs, then, were well out of comprehension. Some of his Washington Wizards teammates could tell him what he'd expect, but usually, their stories ended with a disclaimer: You won't know what it's about until you experience it.
"I think intensity-wise, and focus-wise, it's pretty much the same" as the NCAA tournament, Beal said Thursday morning. "But I think at the same time, it's different from the tournament because it's a series. It's not just one-and-done, so I think that's probably the only difference."
Entering Game 6 of their second-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday, seven Wizards players — Beal, point guard John Wall, forwards Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton, center Kevin Seraphin and rookies Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. — had been through the trials of their first 10 playoff games.
Some have seen the court infrequently — Singleton and Rice have been inactive for every game, while Porter and Seraphin have essentially only played during blowouts.
But for Beal and Wall, two young guards who have taken significant steps toward starring roles in the league, this opportunity hasn't been vastly overwhelming.
"It's an amazing feeling, man," said Wall, who won just 30 percent of his games over his first three seasons before the Wizards went 44-38 this year, his fourth. "The intensity level is more than it's ever been during the regular season. You're playing for something. You're winning, trying to get a championship or go to the Finals, at least. Regular season, you're just playing."
Wall, in particular, has faced his share of challenges this postseason. After an exceptional first-round series against the Chicago Bulls, Wall was identified by the Pacers as the primary threat and he struggled with his decision-making, his shooting and his confidence.
In the regular season, Wall could emerge from a slump by simply matching up better against another team — one mired in a losing streak, or one whose starting point guard was injured, or one whose style of play didn't match the Wizards' aggressive transition game.
The postseason doesn't offer that luxury, with the best-of-seven format requiring teams to play as frequently as every other day, as has been the case in this series.
"It gets frustrating," Wall said. "If you have two bad games or three bad games, you're like, 'Well, dang it. Am I going to figure out how to score well against this team, or play well against this team?' They're going to keep making their defensive adjustments to confuse you when you're trying to work on something they did the last game. You've got to be mentally strong and just try to fight through it and just try to stay positive."
Pacers forward Rasual Butler, a 12-year veteran who played in the playoffs in two of his first three seasons, believes those experiences helped him set a tone for how he approached the rest of his career.
So much changes in the postseason — the level of intensity, the depth of adjustments, the nuances of match-ups. He, too, found it difficult to adequately characterize the differences between the regular season and the playoffs.
"The best teacher is experience, so until you actually experience and go through it, you're still going to have some questions," Butler said. "You're still going to have some doubts and things that you need to learn. But experience is the best teacher, and for our young guys, for their younger guys, once they reach these situations again, they'll grow more confident and understand the level that they need to play at consistently."
The Wizards set a goal of making it to the playoffs this season, but the Pacers, who had done so the previous three seasons, began talking about a deep postseason run as soon as training camps opened last fall. Still, as the Pacers showed this season, attempting to maintain that kind of focus through 82 games is something only the most experienced teams are able to do.
"You kind of try your best to sustain that, although subconsciously, you know throughout the regular season it's not those moments," Butler said. "You try to use the regular season to prepare for the playoffs so it's not foreign to you when you get into these situations."
Wall, for the most part, has enjoyed the experience. After one of the Wizards' last regular-season home games in April, he joked that the best part of qualifying for the playoffs was "getting away from 29 wins."
"Man, this is everything you live for," Wall said Thursday morning. "This is way bigger than the NCAA tournament. This is what you play for. You want the opportunity to win the game, and hopefully, I can be here [in the playoffs] the rest of my career."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.