There was a noticeable difference in how the Wizards were perceived entering their last two seasons, and John Wall and Bradley Beal predicted it.
Before the 2016-17 season, no one thought much of the Wizards coming off a year in which they missed the playoffs and replaced their head coach. Then, they went out and won 49 games and made it to Game 7 in the second round of the playoffs.
Entering last season, the Wizards were generating more hype than ever before since Wall was drafted. They were given 18 national TV games as a result and Wall and Beal saw that as a blessing and a curse.
They spoke openly about how they knew they would be "a targeted team," that no longer could they sneak up on anyone. They would get the best effort from every opponent, and sure enough, they did. That, they believe, had at least something to do with them so often against lesser teams, one of the biggest issues that held them back in 2017-18.
Even after they signed Dwight Howard, traded for Austin Rivers and had an overall solid offseason, the Wizards aren't getting the praise they were receiving a year ago. Many expect Toronto, Philly and Boston to duke it out at the top of the conference, and national media members have become enamored with up-and-coming teams like Milwaukee and Indiana.
Wall has noticed all of that and believes it could be a good thing.
"It's even better. When we were that team that was flying under the radar, we came out and showed people what we was capable of. Then, when we were the team that everyone was talking about and everyone had so much high expectations for, we kind of failed those expectations," Wall said.
Wall, like many athletes, uses even the smallest of slights to his advantage. He thrives off an us-vs.-them mentality and embraces proving people wrong.
When asked at his charity backpack giveaway on Saturday if it bothered him that the Wizards are being overlooked, Wall brought up, unprompted, something he has heard in the media that is clearly bothering him.
"It's just extra motivation for me. It don't matter to me. A lot of guys don't talk about me being a top-5 point guard and that's cool. It's just more motivation for me and for us as a team," he said.
It's not clear who has been saying Wall isn't a top-5 point guard, but Wall isn't happy about it. He wants to prove whomever those people are wrong about him and the Wizards.
The question will be whether the Wizards can actually keep a low profile, given they have a tendency to talk a big game, but history does show they perform better as the underdogs.
"The job for us to just fly under the radar and make it happen," Wall said.
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