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How Wizards feel about their first half says a lot about their high expectations

How Wizards feel about their first half says a lot about their high expectations

The perception of the Wizards from the outside and within their own locker room at the midway point of this 2017-18 season perhaps says a lot about how the expectations are higher than they have been for this franchise in quite some time.

After 41 games, exactly the halfway point, the Wizards are 23-18. Over the course of a full 82-game schedule that would amount to 46 wins. Considering that this team has only won 46 games or more twice since the 1978-79 season, that's not bad at all.

But the Wizards have reached a new era where simply being good isn't good enough.

In most years a 46-win pace would be just fine, but they feel their first half of the season should have been appreciably better, especially after their 49-win 2016-17 campaign.

When asked to grade the first half, head coach Scott Brooks and his players all offered marks within the C to B range. What held them back from As is the fact they have lost many games they feel they should have won.

Point guard John Wall put the estimate at nine or 10 games.

"We should have had a way better start to the season than we had. But we can't look back at it," he said. "We have what we have now."

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The Wizards might be content with 46 wins over a full season, but their gripes with the first half are in the details. They have 10 losses against teams with losing records, tied for the second-most in the NBA. That's in contrast with their 12-8 mark against teams at .500 or better, second-best in the East.

Those woes continued on Wednesday night against the Jazz, the Wizards' 41st game. They went up by 12 points early, only to suffer yet another loss to another team with a sub-.500 record.

The Wizards have had consistency issues in years past, but this is an unusual split. Past records show they are generally very good against lesser teams.

"I know y’all are tired of hearing it and I’m tired of saying it," Wall said. "Until we prove that we can do it on a nightly basis, we’re going to have these same conversations.”

That's the glass half-empty perspective.

The positive side is that the Wizards are comfortably in the Eastern Conference playoff race at fifth despite missing several key players at times due to injury. Wall has missed 11 games, Markieff Morris missed eight and Otto Porter has missed four.

Health has been a big difference between last year and this year. Last season they didn't have any significant injuries to their starting lineup and after 41 games they were 22-19, a game behind their current pace. That team advanced all the way to the seventh game of the second round of the playoffs.

As the Wizards will tell you, it's not easy navigating injuries to the starting lineup.

"It's different lineups, different rotations and playing with different guys," guard Bradley Beal said.

"We'll take it," Wall said. "You would think it would be worse with the way we were playing and what we've been going through so far."

PODCAST: HAS BRADLEY BEAL BEEN THE WIZARDS' MVP?

Though they have lost two straight games, there are signs the Wizards are trending up in the big picture. They are 11th in the NBA in offensive rating and ninth in defensive rating. They should keep improving on offense with Wall in the driver's seat and their defense is much better than it was last season when they were 20th in defensive efficiency. Last year the Wizards were 20th in opponents three-point percentage and this year they are first.

Based on Basketball Reference's simple rating system, the Wizards have been the NBA's eighth-best team. When Wall is in the lineup, they can score with the best offenses in the NBA and they can play sound defense when they are committed to it.

Beal is putting up career numbers and could make his first All-Star team. Porter continues to improve as a scoring threat and versatile defender. Their bench has been by all accounts better with Tomas Satoransky emerging as a legitimate backup point guard. Mike Scott has become a reliable scorer off the bench. Kelly Oubre, Jr. is making less mistakes on both ends of the floor. And Ian Mahinmi is healthy after missing 51 games last season.

Yes, they have suffered losses to the Suns, Lakers, Mavericks, Nets (twice), Clippers, Hawks and Hornets. But they have also beaten the Celtics (in Boston), the Rockets, Raptors, Heat, Timberwolves and Blazers. 

There are many ways of looking at their first half, but everyone on the Wizards is optimistic about the next few months leading up to the playoffs.

"The bright side is that we're right there," Beal said of the Wizards' fifth-place standing.

"This is where it gets interesting. This is where the season changes. I'm looking forward to it. I think we're starting to realize that we can make a big jump right here in these next few weeks."

RELATED: WHO IS WINNING THE 2017-18 MVP RACE?

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Jeff Green hopes recent playoff success can rub off on Wizards

Jeff Green hopes recent playoff success can rub off on Wizards

Jeff Green's basketball résumé got a significant boost this spring and summer as his Cleveland Cavaliers marched all the way to the NBA Finals before they were swept by the Golden State Warriors. It was Green's first time going past the second round of the playoffs and the experience, he says, was invaluable.

Green has come about as close to winning a championship without actually winning one and he certainly hopes to get back in that position. Green believes his new team, the Washington Wizards, have the tools to make a deep playoff run and it's one of the reasons why he signed a free agent deal to join them.

"Being there last year myself with Cleveland, I know it takes a lot. It takes a lot of pieces. I feel like this team has them," he said. "We can get back to that point. When I got the call, I felt like it was the best opportunity for myself to get there."

The Wizards' franchise has not been past the second round of the playoffs since 1979, when they were known as the Bullets. That was before anyone on their roster was born.

But Green pointed to the open Eastern Conference and the talent on the roster as reasons to believe they can accomplish some things that they haven't in decades. They may be capable, but putting it all together is easier said than done.

Green hopes to be one of the glue guys necessary for the Wizards to reach their potential, in part by sharing the lessons he learned.

"Never take it for granted. There are a lot of greats that have never been there," he said. "Getting to the Finals and being part of that was beyond amazing. With the experience and seeing what it took, I can bring that here and get everybody on the same page of knowing what it takes and the sacrifices that you have to do to get to that point."

Green over and over mentioned how it takes a collective effort to go to the conference finals and beyond, but he did show some self-awareness and a sense of humor about his own experience in Cleveland. All teams are different and the one he just left was a unique situation.

"You can’t get there individually. I mean, you can, we did last year. I mean, LeBron [James] carried us all the way there," he joked. "But there’s only one LeBron, but to get there you have to have team unity. You all have to be on the same page and sacrifice to make sure you’re doing what it takes to get the team there. I think that’s the biggest key. It’s not an individual thing… unless you’re LeBron."

If the Wizards are to reach their goals and go to the conference finals or the NBA Finals, they will have to do it differently than the Cavaliers did. They do not have a player on the level of James who can do much of it by himself. But Green said the process of imparting his wisdom has already started.

"I talked to John [Wall]," Green said. "Knowing that he wants to get to the Finals, I was just picking his brain and what he thinks is needed to get there. And me sharing my experience of getting to the Finals and what it takes."

The Wizards have reached a point as an organization where they have urgency to reach new heights. Green believes he can help them get there.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: John Wall goes 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, celebrity softball and the Summer League

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: John Wall goes 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, celebrity softball and the Summer League

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, John Wall went 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, the celebrity softball game and the Summer League.

Chase Hughes and Chris Miller broke down the parallels between Wall and Harper and why Wall has chosen to stay loyal to Washington in his own contract decisions. Plus, can the Wizards really tone down the talking this season?

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!