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With Beal back, Wizards hope to rise after missing playoffs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bradley Beal returned to the Washington Wizards saying he wanted to win a championship with them.

Now the pressure is on for this team to show that it's at least moving closer to some form of contention.

Beal is back for his 11th season with the Wizards after signing a five-year deal to stay in Washington. He's the constant on a roster that's undergone its share of changes over the past couple years while essentially treading water in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards actually won 10 of their first 13 games last season under new coach Wes Unseld Jr., but wrist surgery in February ended Beal's season and the team missed the playoffs.

Returning to the postseason would be one step in the right direction.

“Obviously that's everybody's goal — to make the playoffs,” general manager Tommy Sheppard said. “I think we've got to see the improvement on the defensive end. I think we addressed that in the summer. Find out in the winter what you did in the summer. These players are going to have to prove that they are worth what we believe that they are, by getting it done on the floor.”

In Beal, the Wizards have a high-scoring star, but in the absence of high draft picks or other major acquisitions, they are in danger of blending into the NBA's murky middle class — the group of teams that might be good enough to make the playoffs, but are still a long way from title contention.

Still, Washington has made enough changes that it's worth seeing how the Wizards look when healthy before passing judgement on their short-term outlook. Washington traded for Kristaps Porzingis last season, but because of Beal's injury those two never played together.

“I’m jealous I’m not 7-3. I’m a whole foot shorter,” Beal said. “I’m excited, because he’s a specimen. He’s probably the best big I will play with in my career.”

The Wizards' hopes for success in 2022-23 start with the chance to have Beal, Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma all available and in the lineup.

Washington also acquired guards Will Barton and Monte Morris in an offseason deal with Denver, reuniting them with Unseld, who was an assistant coach with the Nuggets before being hired by the Wizards.

AT THE POINT

The Wizards have had their share of dynamic point guards in recent seasons with Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Gilbert Arenas. Spencer Dinwiddie was next in line, but he lasted less than a season in Washington before being dealt in the trade that brought Porzingis to the Wizards.

Now the team turns to Morris.

“He prides himself on running the team, and I think that’s going to be a huge benefit to this group, because he’s going to know what the group needs at the right time,” Unseld said.

DEFENSIVE WOES

Improving at the defensive end was a focus for the Wizards last season, but they finished 25th in the league in defensive rating.

“It starts with us guards. We put a lot of pressure on our bigs sometimes,” Beal said. “We've got to be better on the ball, getting into the ball and make sure we're guarding our yard.”

YOUNG TALENT

Washington took guard Johnny Davis of Wisconsin with the 10th pick in this year's draft. The Wizards haven't picked higher than ninth since 2013, the year after they drafted Beal.

In addition to Davis, Washington has picked Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert in recent first rounds. They're all still with the team and can contribute, but the Wizards haven't been able to add another star to the roster through the draft.

BEYOND THE ARC

Washington ranked next-to-last in the league in 3-point attempts last season, which may have been a good thing because the Wizards were 26th in 3-point percentage.

They were the top team in the NBA at limiting opposing 3-point attempts, allowing 31.8 per game.

INJURIES

Although Beal is back from his wrist injury, he has been dealing with an illness, and Kispert is expected to miss at least the rest of October with a sprained ankle.

Porzingis left Monday night's preseason game with a left ankle issue.

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Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

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