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Wizards Kick Playoff Push into High Gear

Stacy M. Brown | 3/12/2014, 3 p.m.
From left: John Wall, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat (Courtesy of XNSPORTS)

When John Wall signed an $80 million contract extension prior to the start of the season, the young superstar said the deal had taken his motivation to another level.

Wall’s motivation and that of others on the team has led to a year that will likely see the Washington Wizards make the playoffs for the first time in six years.

And, with less than 20 games left, the Wizards conceivably could end the season as the third best team in the Eastern Conference, which would guarantee them home court advantage in the first and possibly second round of the NBA playoffs.

“We’re going to play hard and see what we can do to see if we can get a better playoff seeding,” said Wall, 23, who has led the Wizards to a 33-30 record, including a recent stretch in which the team won eight of nine.

Young shooting guard Bradley Beal has been among those helping Washington to its finest season since 2007-08, when the team finished 43-39 and in second place in the Southeast Division.

That year, the Wizards lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, but the 2014 squad has displayed the kind of confidence that it normally takes to advance in the NBA postseason tournament.

“We know we’re going to be a playoff team,” said Beal, 20. “In order to do that, we have to win games. We have to focus on winning every game. It’s always tough, but at the same time we know how playoff seeding is very important.”

Washington has also proven to be one of the most potent offensive teams in the league. During their 8-1 stretch, the Wizards scored at least 104 points in six of the games and they shot more than 50 percent from the floor each time.

Veteran forward Trevor Ariza also has been a spark for the Wizards.

Just 62 three-point shots away from setting a new single-season franchise record set by Gilbert Arenas a decade ago, Ariza has averaged more than 27 points per game during the Wizards hot streak and he’s shot nearly 64 percent from the floor.

“I’m putting the ball up often, that’s the difference,” said Ariza, 28. “I’m getting a lot of work in practice and I’m in the gym shooting.”

Head Coach Randy Wittman said Ariza has been in a zone lately and it couldn’t have come at a better time as the Wizards push toward the playoffs has been in high gear.

“He’s playing at such a high level,” said Wittman, 54, a Coach of the Year candidate.

Even the front office has helped.

At the trade deadline last month, the Wizards picked up point guard Andre Miller in a three-team deal that included the Philadelphia 76ers and the Denver Nuggets.

“The last minute trade really worked out for Washington,” said Jack Bolesta, who covers the Wizards for Rant Sports. “Miller has spent a lot of time in the league and still has a consistent jump shot. He can also play the whole court and picking him up will help Washington’s bench and hopefully push them to a higher playoff seed."