Gators in the NBA: Wall, Beal eye 50 wins, East finals

In this Sept. 28, 2017, file photo, Washington guards John Wall, left, and Bradley Beal (University of Florida) share a laugh during practice at NBA training camp in Richmond, Va. The Wizards are sticking with the same group of starters as last season, led by the young core of Wall, Beal and Otto Porter Jr., who are all in their 20s and all signed to long-term contracts. Washington will try to make the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in nearly 40 years this season. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
WASHINGTON — John Wall is a perennial All-Star. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal might finally get that sort of recognition this season.What both of the Washington Wizards’ starting guards in their 20s would really love to do is, at long last, really matter in the NBA playoffs — and stick around more than two rounds.The goals, Wall explained, are simple: “Try to get over 50 wins, get to the Eastern Conference finals, give ourselves a chance to make it to the finals.”

How long has it been since this franchise won 50 games or reached the conference finals? Nearly 40 years: Washington last did either of those things when it did both way back in 1978-79.

A few moments later, Wall added: “It’s all going to start with me and Brad.” There’s no doubt about that.

Each guard averaged 23.1 points last season to help the Wizards go 49-33 and earn a No. 4 seed in the East before losing to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. It’s the third time in four years the team in the nation’s capital exited at that stage (the Wizards didn’t even make the playoffs in 2015-16).

As everyone around them, seemingly, made big moves in the offseason, the Wizards stayed with what they had, not making a single alteration to their starting lineup (Wall, Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat), while also holding onto top reserves Kelly Oubre Jr., Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith.

“We know that we can’t relax,” Porter said, “just because we’re back.”

Aside from giving Wall and Porter new deals, all President Ernie Grunfeld did to the roster was adjust the bench a bit, bringing in backups Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott.

“I don’t care what any other team does. They make change, they make stuff to make their team better,” said Wall, who was second in the league with 10.7 assists per game and tied for first by averaging two steals. “We did what we had to do to make our team better.”

There was a popular story line not that long ago that surmised that Wall and Beal, a former standout at the University of Florida, didn’t get along with each other, didn’t enjoy playing with each other, would have trouble sharing the basketball and figuring out how to win with each other.

They scoff at that nowadays.

“I felt like it was funny then, because it kind of just came out of nowhere. I don’t know. I don’t really understand it. We’ve been together, this is six years for me, eight for him. That’s a long time in this league, especially. … We still laugh at it today,” Beal said. “We realize that he wouldn’t be where he is without me and vice versa.”

And the Wizards wouldn’t be where they are without the two of them. Now they want go get somewhere they’ve never been.