"I feel like we're the best team in the East, I really do," Beal said, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. "That's how we feel coming into the season."
According to Windhorst, some Wizards players feel the Cavaliers purposefully played badly toward the end of the regular season in order to avoid Washington until the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics eliminated the Wizards in seven games in the second round before falling to the Cavs in five games in the East finals.
Beal didn't go so far as to say the Wizards would've upset the defending NBA champion Cavaliers, but he thought they would've presented a stiffer test to Cleveland than the Celtics did:
"We love the matchup against them and why not? I said it and [Cavs guard JR Smith] didn't like it too much, some of their other guys didn't like it too much. But I felt that way. It's not disrespect with them, I'm not saying we'd have won the series, but I feel like our competition level and matchups would've been better. I'd have loved to see it, but at the end of the day you tip your hat to them. They've been in the Finals for the last three years."
Beal's confidence is understandable. The Wizards won 49 games in 2016-17—their most since 1978-79—and the backcourt duo of Beal and Wall are coming off their best seasons in the NBA.
Wall remained one of the NBA's best playmakers—averaging 10.7 assists—while also scoring 23.1 points a night. Beal, meanwhile, connected on 40.4 percent of his three-pointers, and his 23.1 points per game were nearly six points higher than his previous best (17.4 points per game in 2015-16).
At the same time, the Wizards had limited cap space to improve the roster after giving Otto Porter Jr. a four-year, $106.5 million extension. Washington is essentially the same team from a year ago.
The Celtics, on the other hand, added Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving—at the expense of some of their depth. The Cavaliers also look much different with Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade joining the team. Isaiah Thomas will start at point guard as well when he's healthy enough.
In order to topple Cleveland for Eastern Conference supremacy, the Wizards need Beal, Wall and Porter to be even better than they were a year ago, and that's asking a lot of the three.