- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2017

The Brooklyn Nets were in town Friday night. The Wizards won, 129-108. Now that the hapless Nets are out of the way, Washington will focus on an enormous coming trip and the pending postseason. The trip starts Saturday night in Cleveland and includes stops against the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State and Utah. Also in the mix is a visit with the Lakers.

Washington will go through the trip as a playoff team. Thanks to its win Friday, and Chicago and Detroit losing, the Wizards clinched a playoff spot for the third time in four seasons.

To be in the playoffs, 16 games over .500 with 10 to play and in the top three seeds after last season’s dismal ending, subsequent coaching change and the putrid start to this season, is a significant pivot.

“Last year was a disappointment to us,” Bradley Beal said. “We wanted to be in the playoffs. This year, we had no choice. We wanted to get in. At the same time, we constantly set more goals. We want to be second now. We want to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. We have big goals for ourselves. We’re going to try our best to get there.”

“The way we dealt with last year wasn’t good for us,” John Wall said. “We wanted to go to the playoffs. Fell magnificently short of that. Coming in to start the season wasn’t the way we wanted. We never threw nobody under the bus. We all stayed together as a team. I think that’s the most important thing as a group, and we all figured it out.”

Three points after the drubbing of Brooklyn:

Wall’s head in the game. Wall missed Friday morning’s shootaround because of a migraine headache. He said he left his house to drive to the arena for shootaround, but had to turn around and go home. He went back to sleep for most of the day, received a massage to work out some of the knots in his neck after he rose around 3:30 p.m., then came to Verizon Center about 4:30 p.m. Washington coach Scott Brooks wasn’t sure if Wall would play. He ended up starting, scoring 22 points and picking up nine assists in 24 minutes. The bench players performed well, keeping Wall on the bench throughout the fourth quarter, providing him rest that could benefit him Friday and, theoretically, Saturday when Washington is in Cleveland to play the Cavaliers. Wall has a history of migraines. He uses water, medicine and massage to combat them. “I play through a lot of stuff,” Wall said. “I’ll be all right.”

Jennings on track. Brandon Jennings had not shot the ball well since arriving in Washington on March 1. Coming into Friday, he was 4-for-27 from behind the 3-point line. Against the Nets, his shot was resurrected. Jennings made four 3-pointers, pushed the ball and offered a high-arcing scoop alley-oop to Kelly Oubre. It was a swag-filled evening for Jennings, who finished with 18 points and nine assists against one of the worst teams in the league. “I’ve been in a good rhythm the last three games,” Jennings said. “Seeing the ball go in, coming in early before shootaround just trying to find my rhythm. It’s paying off right now and I’m trying to keep it going.”

Here comes Cleveland. Enough of talking about playing the Nets. Let’s get to Cleveland and LeBron James. It’s easy to recall what happened last time: Cleveland tied the game on James’ unlikely fadeaway banked-in 3-pointer as the clock expired. The Cavaliers went on to win in what was one of the best games of the regular season. Beal scored 41 points in that game. Kevin Love punished the Wizards when they switched, sending him on his way to 39 points. James put together his typically staggering line: 32 points, 17 assists and seven rebounds. “One of the best games of the year… for them,” Brooks said. “I think we did a lot of things right. Unfortunately, somebody had to lose. There’s like five games you can probably pick out in an NBA season that both teams deserved to win. That was one game that definitely was the case. LeBron is going to go down as one of the best players ever to play the game. He made incredible shots. He made those three 3s and he made that tough bank shot. I don’t think you can guard him any better than what we’ve done. Some nights, he’s unstoppable. But, there’s some nights he’s missing shots and hopefully that’s one of those nights.”

Markieff Morris rued a lost chance the last time Washington played Cleveland. “Of course, he’s LeBron, so he’s going to get off. But, we had the [expletives],” Morris said. “That’s all I can say. We had them. They was dead to rights. They had a couple plays that was kind of some luck stuff. A couple balls bounced wrong to threes and stuff like that. That’s how the game goes. Portland had us. It’s like that sometimes.”

Washington goes into the game 3 ½ games behind Cleveland with 10 games to play. It is six wins short of hitting the 50-win mark for the first time since 1979. The playoffs begin April 14.

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