Despite a second-round postseason exit, the 2016-17 season was kind to the Washington Wizards.
A core of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. continued to blossom in new and exciting ways, and the result was a 49-win season that propelled the Wizards to their first division title in 38 years.
The offseason presented some big question marks, namely surrounding Porter's future, but the Wizards were true to their word and matched the Brooklyn Nets' max offer sheet to keep the burgeoning three-and-D talent in town.
Now eyeing their first 50-win season since the 1978-79 campaign, Washington will attempt to build on a productive first year under head coach Scott Brooks and challenge for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 18, vs. Philadelphia 76ers (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Championship Odds: 66-1 (via OddsShark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Boston Celtics: Dec. 25, Feb. 8, March 14, April 10
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It might sound weird, but few NBA rivalries have been as compelling as the one that's evolved between the Wizards and Boston Celtics over the past two years.
As a refresher, here's a rundown of the big incidents that cropped up between the two sides a season ago:
- On Nov. 9, Wall was ejected in the waning seconds of a 118-93 win after he was assessed a flagrant-2 foul for hitting Marcus Smart with a forearm above the neck. The two proceeded to have an intense verbal exchange.
- On Jan. 11, Wall and Jae Crowder got into a shouting match after the final whistle of the Celtics' 117-108 win that culminated with Wall slapping the Boston forward. The altercation was so heated police officers reportedly had to stand between the locker rooms at TD Garden to prevent things from escalating.
- Less than two weeks later, Wizards players wore all black for a "funeral game" against the Celtics at Verizon Center. Washington won that round 123-108.
- The two sides proceeded to meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Celtics prevailed in seven games, but the Wizards stole a thrilling Game 6 to force a final game back in Boston when Wall hit a game-winning three with 3.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
Now it's onto the 2017-18 season, where tempers are sure to flare again as the Wizards eye revenge after the Celtics sent them packing.
Taking Boston down a peg won't be easy, though.
The Celtics loaded up by signing Gordon Hayward to a max contract and drafting former Duke scoring machine Jayson Tatum third overall, giving them a stacked bench and a legitimate Big Three.
At this point, fans should hope for another testy regular season that sets the stage for a playoff rematch of epic proportions.
Miami Heat: Nov. 15, Nov. 17, March 6, March 10
And that's fair.
However, the Wizards don't have a history of rattling off division titles, which means they'll have to be wary of the Miami Heat as they attempt to protect their crown in the Southeast.
That may sound easy since the Heat only won 41 games last season and didn't make a splashy offseason move, but if the second half of the 2016-17 campaign was any indication, Washington needs to watch its back.
After staring a miserable 12-30, the Heat went 29-11 between Jan. 17 and April 12 to finish at .500.
Miami also went a perfect 4-0 against the Wizards a year ago, including two wins during the final four days of the regular season.
Brooks' squad had the luxury of coasting at that point in the season, but it may not be able to rest easy next time around.
If the Heat can avoid another first-half slump, don't be surprised if they push the Wizards for Southeast superiority down the stretch.
It's only natural to think some progression in the win column—even if it's fairly modest—lies ahead for the Wizards.
For one, Washington is returning all five members of last season's starting lineup in Wall, Beal, Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat.
That's huge, because those five played a league-high 1,347 minutes together a year ago. The NBA's second-most used five-man unit, by comparison, played 880 minutes.
That group also managed to outscore opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions with an offensive rating of 111.9, according to NBA.com's lineup data.
And while the starting lineup has anchored the Wiz in a big way, they should benefit from a deeper bench that wasn't at their disposal last season.
Specifically, last year's bench mob averaged a 29th-ranked 27 points per game.
But now that point guard Tim Frazier and sharpshooter Jodie Meeks have entered the fray alongside rising third-year swingman Kelly Oubre and big man Ian Mahinmi, Brooks should be more comfortable giving Wall and Beal extended breathers as he attempts to manage their minutes a bit more judiciously.