By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The tale of the 2012-13 Washington Wizards reads in two parts.
The first part was the 5-28 start, which included a 12-game losing streak to begin the campaign.
The second part was the 24-25 finish.
The date of the turnaround came on Jan. 12. For it was on that date, John Wall returned to the Wizards lineup.
After missing the first two months of the season with an odd left knee injury, Wall came back and led the Wiz toward respectability.
Once he returned, Wall was magnificent. Averaging almost five minutes per game less than his first two seasons, Wall posted a career-high 18.5 ppg. His assist numbers were down a bit, although his 44 percent from the field was a personal best.
Wall was rewarded with a max contract in the offseason, befitting the former No. 1 overall pick.
Armed with the new, huge deal for the leader/superstar, and a .500 record for a good portion of last season, the Wizards are speaking a word rarely mentioned about the basketball team in the nation's capital - playoffs.
"Yeah, I feel like the pressure is a lot more," Wall said during media day. "I embrace it. I love pressure."
Washington is certainly in the mix for one of the East's last postseason berths. Aiding in that cause was the Wiz's success in the NBA Draft Lottery. Washington received the third pick and tabbed Georgetown forward Otto Porter, Jr.
Porter fills a big need at the small-forward spot and defensively, he can be a problem with his huge wingspan.
The Wizards suffered a blow, especially defensively, when it was announced Emeka Okafor, the team's starting center, has a herniated disc in his neck and will be out indefinitely.
That's a huge loss for Washington. Okafor was part of a plan, not just on the court, but off. In recent years, the Wizards jettisoned several immature players to improve the culture of the franchise. A hard-working professional like Okafor will still be around since the team's growth off the court goes a long way to its improvement on it.
2012-13 Results: 29-53, 3rd in Southeast; Missed playoffs.
ADDITIONS: F Otto Porter, Jr., G Glen Rice, Jr., G Eric Maynor, F Al Harrington
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- John Wall SG- Bradley Beal SF- Otto Porter, Jr. PF- Nene C- Kevin Seraphin
KEY RESERVES: F Martell Webster, F/C Jan Vesely, F Trevor Booker, G Eric Maynor, G Garrett Temple, F Chris Singleton, F Trevor Ariza. F Al Harrington
FRONTCOURT: If you don't think Okafor's absence is big hit, keep in mind he's averaged 12.3 ppg and 9.9 rpg for his career.
"It's awkward. I was looking forward to starting this year and getting things kicked off right," said Okafor.
In his stead, Kevin Seraphin will be the starting center. He played almost 22 minutes a contest last season and averaged 9.1 ppg. He's not a great rebounder however, he's playing for a contract next season.
Nene is a pro's pro and is essential for leadership. He's averaged double- figures the last five seasons, but his field-goal percentage took a massive dip last season. Nene missed time at the start of last year. He's healthy and will be vital if Washington thinks postseason.
Porter was absent at the beginning of training camp with a sore hip. Any kind of time away for a rookie, who is not a ready-made NBA starter as is the case with Porter, could be devastating. Porter is a very smart player, albeit a bit of a tweener.
Head coach Randy Wittman has already indicated Porter might not be ready for a starting role, which would mean Webster and Ariza are in the mix for that job.
BACKCOURT: Wall was magnificent last season. He is as quick as any guard in the NBA. He has flaws like outside shooting, but when he penetrates, and gets headed toward the basket, he's unstoppable. Wall is the leader of this team now, especially after the gigantic contract.
Wall will reportedly write the word "playoffs" on all of his sneakers for each game this season to keep the Wizards focused.
Beal enjoyed a very good rookie season in 2012-13. He averaged 13.9 ppg and shot 38 percent from long range. Beal made the All-Rookie first team last season, but missed 26 games with a myriad of injuries. With a full season alongside Wall, Beal could be in for a big season.
BENCH: Washington was 10th in bench scoring last season. Part of the reason for that was the amount of changing Wittman did to the starting lineup.
Webster signed a four-year deal with the Wizards and enjoyed a spectacular three-point shooting season.
Ariza and Booker are both solid bench producers and Bledsoe is an excellent backup point guard in the NBA. Temple is an adequate two-way guard.
Singleton will miss six weeks with a broken bone in his left foot.
Rice is a dead-eye shooter and Washington needed more of a long-distance threat.
Whatever you get out of Harrington will be a blessing. He can stretch the floor with his three-point ability, but injuries have debilitated him in recent years.
Now or never for Vesely.
COACHING: Wittman is on the last year of his contract. He is a lifer in the sport and sometimes last season, looked the part. Wittman is a very intelligent man who explains things in great detail.
Now, his Wizards team is a playoff contender. Those expectations need to be managed since this organization has not made the postseason since 2007-08.
"Listen, we want to make the playoffs. I think, obviously, if we can continue to grow as a team like we did last year, when we had healthy pieces, that should be our goal," said Wittman. "And there's no reason why we can't."
As for the contract, Wittman is not concerned.
"Do you think this is the first time I've been on a one-year contract?"
Guessing no, but his lame-duck status, with higher expectations could make Wittman vulnerable early.
OUTLOOK: Will they, or won't they?
With a healthy Okafor, the Wizards are probably a playoff team. The Eastern Conference is top-heavy with the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers.
Those other three spots are up for grabs. Is Washington right there with the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors? Absolutely, but that's if the progression continues.
Wall and Beal have to continue their trend toward elite guards. The bench has to provide something and Okafor's replacement has to rebound and defend.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is tempering expectations. This is a group getting bombarded with questions about finally making the playoffs. The Wiz believe they can, but Nene was the voice of reason at media day.
"I'm not a singer. I don't like to work with my mouth. I work with my action," he said.
If Okafor is sidelined for a long period, or the season, Washington will just miss out on a playoff berth.
10/15 14:07:31 ET