Prior to the Wizards' postseason opener against the Hawks on Sunday, Scott Brooks addressed his team on Thursday night. He pointed out how far he felt the team has come this season: 49 wins, the first division title in 38 years, and a top-four seed in the East.
“We came together with nine new players this season; that’s a challenge in itself,” Brooks explained on Friday. “Then a new coach and a new system. It came together and [we] did a great job in the regular season. And in the playoffs, everybody’s goal is to win 16 games, you can’t do it all in one series, you have to do it one game at a time."
Considering the team’s success this season, he emphasized that the team should not change how they play because the playoffs are here. He made sure to point that out since several Wizards players haven’t played much in the postseason.
"For the guys who have never played in it, the game - it’s a 94 by 50-foot court, or if you want to shoot a halfcourt shot it’s 47 feet," Brooks said sarcastically. "So it’s all the same, whether it’s a playoff game or a regular season game, you gotta play basketball….you still have to focus on playing basketball and do the things that brought you here.”
Brooks coached 73 playoff games during his seven seasons in Oklahoma City, including one trip to the NBA Finals. That experience will be very important for a team that has only played in 204 combined playoff games, with 123 of them coming from big men Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi. Seven players on the roster have never been to the playoffs, while Otto Porter Jr. has only played important minutes in two playoff series. In his sixth season in the league, this will be Markieff Morris’ first trip to the playoffs, while veterans Jason Smith and Brandon Jennings haven’t been to the playoffs in several seasons.
When the Wizards last went to the playoffs, they had a veteran leader in Paul Pierce. Last season, the same could be said about veterans in the locker room. But this season, John Wall and Bradley Beal were asked to take on bigger roles as leaders on and off the court. Though only 26 and 23 years old respectively, Wall and Beal have the most experience in the playoffs outside of Gortat and Mahinmi.
Wall and Beal were able to earn playoff minutes early in their careers, with multiple series during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Their playoff experience will be important to a team that looks to them for guidance. They have gone through the motions, seen the stage, and understand the level of focus one must carry in the postseason.
While continuing to play the way they’ve been playing, Wall recognizes that his teammates playing in the postseason for the first time also have to be ready for a much different atmosphere. Players need to be prepared for what to expect under the brighter lights.
“We have a couple of guys on our team that are anxious to see what the playoffs are like for the first time,” Wall said. “Like I told them, it’s going to be totally different than what the regular season is, the crowds are amazing. It’s fun, there’s nothing more you could ask for, this is what you work hard for.”
Beal echoed Brooks’ thoughts on just playing basketball and continuing to do the things that helped the team get this far. He believes the process remains the same, players just need to lock in more and focus on the task at hand.
“You keep doing the same thing,” Beal said. “I think it kinda gets misconstrued because you think you have to change your game when you get in the playoffs, and that’s not true. You just have to change your focus, you have to be more locked in. There can be very few mistakes, every possession counts, it’s just a matter of being confident in your game, and just continuing to do the same things you’ve been doing.”
Every single possession matters, decisions are magnified, and stars are born in the postseason. Even though the stage changes, the way the Wizards run, space the floor, and force turnovers will not. The Wizards may not have the playoff experience most teams have, but that won't change their approach. Luckily, they have a coach who has been there plenty of times before and a backcourt of stars who are ready to guide the team to a playoff run this year and in the years to come.