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Wizards trying to start the way they finished

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Washington wants to build on six-game winning streak that ended last season

There was something familiar about the Wizards this preseason. A 3-5 record, by itself, doesn't give the full picture of how Washington looked very much like the same team that finished the regular season back in April by winning six games in a row and eight of their final 10.

The Wizards are looking for that trend to continue when they open the regular season on the road against Cleveland on Tuesday.

"I was extremely pleased," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "I thought we got a lot done this preseason, even with our guys out, and that was indicative of how we played, the intensity we played with, the togetherness we played with for the most part. I thought that was a step where we left off last year."

Season opener
Wizards at Cavaliers
When » Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where » Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
TV » Comcast SportsNet

Of course, just like last season, eight preseason games over the past three weeks counted about the same as the winning run six months ago.

What always matters more is how teams play at the season's start, when everyone has the same record and technically has the same chance to make the playoffs. Even though they're desperate to turn the corner after last year's franchise-worst 0-8 start, the Wizards won't begin this season on equal footing, either. Not with John Wall (left patella tendon) and Nene (left foot plantar fasciitis) sidelined before training camp began. Kevin Seraphin (right calf strain) also played in just three preseason games, further depleting Washington's frontcourt.

But the absences helped motivate those left behind to prove they can help carry the load. Healthy again after a number of injury-riddled seasons, Martell Webster (12.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg) led Washington in preseason scoring and offered a strong argument for starting on the wing over higher-paid Trevor Ariza (7.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg). Incumbent shooting guard Jordan Crawford (11.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.9 apg) was ceded nothing by rookie Bradley Beal (11.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.5 apg). A.J. Price (9.6 ppg, 3.9 apg) improved steadily at point guard and exemplified the Wizards' toughness with his late-game standoff with Brooklyn All-Star guard Deron Williams.

In his first full season at the helm, Wittman's message has been the same: execute, stay intense on defense and limit turnovers. He's less sure about his rotation and hopes to shape it in 10-game increments. At that pace, it may take two iterations before Wall plays a role since he's not expected to return until the end of November at the earliest. But the Wizards, in a way, already have an identity. That's more than they've had in recent seasons.

"To really play through adversity, that shows true character," Webster said. "You always want to piggyback on that. They proved that they can play in this league against some of the best teams in the league. And they won games in those last 10, so of course to have some carryover from the last 10 games last season over this whole season, it's vital."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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