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Wall embraces Wizards' playoff expectations

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WASHINGTON (AP)

Playoff expectations are back in Washington, just the way John Wall likes it.

The Wizards' last postseason trip came during the 2007-08 season, two years before the stumbling franchise selected Wall No. 1 overall in the 2010 draft.

The speedy point guard - now with a max contract - performed at a high level during the second half of last season. With Wall sidelined because of a knee injury, Washington started 5-28, but with him in the lineup, 24-25.

Factor in a deeper and largely healthy roster, and preseason projections have the Wizards in the Eastern Conference playoff mix.

''I feel like the pressure is a lot more,'' Wall said Friday at the team's media day. ''I embrace it, I love pressure. There is nothing to hide from. You hide from it, you don't need to be playing.

Then again, considering the team's myriad of recent struggles - 29 wins last season represented a five-year high - there is also reason to tone down the postseason chatter.

Washington's top three returning scorers, Wall, Nene and Bradley Beal, missed a combined 80 games last season. Center Emeka Okafor is out indefinitely with herniated disk in his neck.

''I'm not (a) singer. I don't like to work with my mouth. I work with my action,'' Nene said. ''I hope the team will work the same because when you say something, you don't know.

''There is still 82 games to play. If you say something before that happens, you need to prove, you need to own your words. We have a great team. We have a good team, a competitive team, but still must work hard to deserve that position.''

On those rare nights Wall, Beal and the Brazilian big man played together, Washington finished 15-7. The backcourt of Wall and Beal was only on the court together for 25 games.

''Hopefully, we can play all 82 together. That's our main goal,'' Beal said. ''When we're both on the floor, great things happen.''

Washington, a top-10 defensive team last season under coach Randy Wittman, has more options capable of stepping in if another round of injuries takes place.

While Wall runs the attack and Nene roams the lane, Beal and Martell Webster provide perimeter shooting. The Wizards re-signed Webster and guard Garrett Temple this offseason.

The team bolstered its wing depth behind Beal, Webster and Trevor Ariza by drafting former Georgetown star Otto Porter with the No. 3 overall selection and acquiring second-round pick Glen Rice Jr. A pair of free agents, forward Al Harrington and point guard Eric Maynor, provide a veteran presence off the bench.

With those pieces, positive memories of last season's second-half close - and the reality that others in the East are thinking lottery over postseason - playoff talk is indeed back in Washington.

''That's more than reasonable,'' said Okafor, Washington's leading rebounder last season. ''I think we should've been a playoff team last season. I think that if we just started with, had our roster, we would've been there.

''I think the offseason acquisitions we made this year makes us more solid. If we just pick up where we left off midseason, we'll be just fine, despite my absence.''

If Okafor returns quickly and the team avoids other health concerns, the playoff talk will continue - as long as the wins follow. But if it's more of the same?

''Then that's the biggest disappointment I think I would have since I've been in the NBA,'' Wall said. ''I think it would be waste of a season.''

Notes: The Wizards signed Fs Josh Childress and Pops Mensah-Bonsu, G Xavier Silas and C D'Or Fischer ahead of training camp. ... Childress has played for three NBA teams over seven seasons. Mensah-Bonsu, who played in college at George Washington, has played sparingly in the NBA and also spent time in Italy, Spain, France and Turkey. Silas played in the D-League the last two seasons. Fischer has played professionally in Poland, Germany, Belgium, Israel and Spain.

Tagged: Wizards, Al Harrington, Emeka Okafor, Martell Webster, John Wall

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