- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2014

Drew Gooden arrived at Verizon Center by 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, beginning his workday with breakfast, a cardiovascular workout and a weightlifting session. By noon, he and teammate Al Harrington casually hoisted a few shots on the practice court, and after 20 minutes in the cold tub, he left the arena, hoping to catch a bikram yoga class.

Life, it seems, is easy for the Wizards, who returned to practice, albeit informally, after taking Wednesday to enjoy their series-clinching victory over the Chicago Bulls a day earlier.

It also marked the first time since training camp, over six months ago, that the Wizards went through a day of work without knowing their next opponent.

“Whoever we’re gonna play, we still have a big chance to beat them, and we feel confident it’s going to come down to playing hard, being more physical and just playing our best basketball ever,” said center Marcin Gortat. “We have a good team. We’re [going to be] getting better and better if we’re going to continue to play hard, if we’re going to continue to play so physical. If each one of us is going to continue to play well, there’s no way they can match with us.”

The Wizards will draw either the top-seeded Indiana Pacers or the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the second round, which will begin Monday regardless of who wins the series. The Hawks entered Game 6 on Thursday, on their home court, with the 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

Washington’s foray into the Eastern Conference semifinals marks the first time it has been in such a position since 2005, when it was swept by the Miami Heat in four games.

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Gooden, who has now appeared in 49 playoff games during his 12 seasons in the league, knows the five-day rest period between games can be beneficial. Though the Wizards emerged from the series moderately healthy, they have not had a break of such length since the All-Star weekend in mid-February.

“You’re taking advantage of staying off your feet and getting your legs back underneath you and working on your game,” Gooden said. “[It’s] a time to really focus in and lock in on your upcoming opponent, whether it’s Indiana or Atlanta.”

Coach Randy Wittman said the Wizards’ routine will kick back in Friday, and he plans to hold three long, hard practices leading into the Monday opener. The first two games would be held at Verizon Center should the Wizards draw Atlanta; if Indiana is the opponent, Washington will host its first game next Friday.

“That will be pretty good,” said Wizards guard Bradley Beal. “I think that gives us a good break in between each game, but I think traveling back might be a pain. At the same time, it kind of gets them out of the way, so it keeps you fresh and makes sure you keep going. You’ve definitely got to take care of your body, because before you know it, you’re going to be playing in less than 48 [hours].”

The Wizards won only one of the three games they played against the Pacers this season — a 91-78 home victory on March 28 that kicked off a streak of eight victories in their last 11 games. They played the Hawks two days later, beating them at home, 91-78, to finish off their season series with three wins in four games.

There was no specific emphasis on playing either team during Thursday’s practice, with the Wizards planning to incorporate more of a specific game plan on Friday.

“I think we’ll probably just prepare for both teams at the same time, and I think we’re more than capable of doing that and getting the right personnel and knowing what their main sets are,” Beal said. “I’m pretty sure they’re probably running some of the same stuff, so hopefully, we’ll leave that up to the coaches to determine what we’ll be doing during practice, so we’ll just prepare that way.”

One of the Wizards’ greatest strengths during the first-round series against the Bulls was in their determination. Several players, including Beal, guard John Wall and forward Nenê, maintained that the team had to approach each game as if it was the underdog.

That mentality will be key again during the next series, Gortat said, as the Wizards, he believes, have come too far to start believing their hype and taking their opponents lightly.

“Whoever it’s going to be — Atlanta, Indiana — we’re going to learn the players as best as we can and we’re just going to stay focused,” Gortat said. “We’re at the time of the year that nothing can really take us off our focus. It’s huge. In the first round, half of the world is watching you. Now it’s the whole world watching you.”

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