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Nets-Wizards Preview

AP - Sports

The Washington Wizards and the New Jersey Nets haven't come close to the playoffs in recent years.

That may not change this season, but the clubs are looking for improvement around dazzling point guards.

John Wall matches up with Deron Williams and tries to get the Wizards off to a strong start as they look to continue their recent success against the Nets on Monday night.

Washington went 23-59 last season to finish at the bottom of the Southeast Division for a third straight time.

New Jersey has endured a similar fortune, missing the playoffs in four consecutive seasons after going 24-58 in 2010-11.

While getting to the postseason would be considered a great achievement for either club, both teams appear to have long-term plans for success.

For the Wizards, that centers on Wall, the top pick out of Kentucky in the 2010 draft.

Wall averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists - tied for sixth in the NBA - and 4.6 rebounds, finishing second to Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers in voting for Rookie of the Year.

He spent the lockout working on his shooting since he made 40.9 percent from the floor and 29.6 from 3-point range. He's also trying to cut down on turnovers after averaging the second-most in the NBA at 3.8.

"I always try to be perfect, but you can't be," Wall said. "When we started losing a couple of games in a row, and how we were playing in stretches of games, I was getting frustrated. I knew we could play with those teams, with the talent we have, but just not being mature enough - and turning the ball over and taking bad shots - really hurt us."

Swingman Nick Young and big man Andray Blatche are back to help Wall.

Young led Washington with 17.4 points per game but was limited to 64 games while battling knee and ankle injuries.

Blatche averaged career highs of 16.8 points and 8.2 boards, but he also struggled with hip and shoulder injuries. His season also included a one-game suspension, along with center JaVale McGee, after the two were involved in an altercation outside of a Washington nightclub.

"Whatever we do, we've got to change this whole atmosphere from losing, and people used to us losing, to winning," Blatche said.

The Wizards have won seven of eight against New Jersey, including all four meetings in the nation's capital during that stretch. That includes a 26-point performance from Wall in a 98-92 victory March 20.

The Nets are entering their final season in New Jersey before moving to Brooklyn, and it's unclear if Williams will be going with them since he's beginning the final season of his contract.

He averaged 15.0 points and 12.8 assists while a wrist injury limited him to 12 games with the Nets last season after being acquired in a trade from Utah.

Overall, the two-time All-Star averaged a career-high 20.1 points and 10.3 assists.

It's unclear if his clouded status for next season is making him uncomfortable in New Jersey, which already has lost center Brook Lopez for at least six weeks due to a broken right foot.

Lopez led the Nets with 20.4 points per game in 2010-11.

"It's our team," Williams said. "Whether I am comfortable or not, it's our team. We've got good guys, guys who know how to play basketball and make plays. That's all we need as long as our defense is locked in."

Kris Humphries returned to the Nets after signing a one-year contract Wednesday and enduring an eventful offseason. The forward, who averaged career highs of 10.0 points and 10.4 rebounds last season, married reality TV star Kim Kardashian, and 72 days later the couple split up.

Lopez's injury could mean an increased onus on Humphries, as rumblings for a deal involving Orlando center Dwight Howard have quieted.

"I know they will play hard," coach Avery Johnson said. "When you have a team with Deron Williams as the point guard he will do a good job of quarterbacking the team."

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