Bradley Beal happy to return to playoffs for first time in three years

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Beal happy to return to playoffs for first time in three years originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Much has changed since the last time Bradley Beal played in an actual NBA playoff game. Not a play-in game, a playoff game.

The last time the Wizards were this far, it was 2018 and John Wall was in the backcourt. Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat filled out their starting lineup.

But for Beal, more notable than the supporting cast is how much has changed about him and his game. He's three years older, now with two kids and a much more complete offensive arsenal.

That 2017-18 season was the first year Wall's body began breaking down. He barely played the next season and didn't play at all the year after that. Along the way, Beal took on a larger role in the Wizards' offense and with that more emphasis on the scouting reports of opposing teams. By necessity, he became an on-ball playmaker, capable of scoring at all three levels because on many nights he had do. 

There were also many losses along the way, far too many that squandered big scoring performances from Beal. He missed the All-Star team and didn't make All-NBA last year, likely because of his team's results.

But he stuck through it and on Sunday played in his first playoff game in years. It was a good feeling and a welcomed change.

"Oh man, I’m excited. I was like a kid in a candy shop today," Beal said. "I just felt really happy and excited to be on the floor, having fun being back on this stage. I’m embracing the journey that we’ve been on to get to where we are now. It was just fun. It was just fun to be back on the floor, fun being in this environment... I’m a lot more prepared to lead the team into the playoffs than I was a couple years ago."

Beal begins every postgame press conference by thanking God. On Sunday, he added a spin to it, saying thanks for allowing him to be on this stage and for his health. Beal has been continuing to work back to 100% from a strained left hamstring which made him miss three games down the stretch of the regular season.

Beal, though, was able to score 33 points in Game 1, including 17 in the third quarter. The game ended in a loss, but he was happy to be back in the playoffs and says he's feeling better and better physically.

The last time Beal made the playoffs, it was nothing new to him. The Wizards made the playoffs four times in five years and three times won a first-round series.

But there's no question his status in the league and in the locker room is different now. He's 27 years old and in his ninth NBA season. This may be old hat for him, but there are several players on the Wizards who have never been here before, like second-year forward Rui Hachimura and second-year center Daniel Gafford.

Having gone through what he's experienced, Beal gave some advice to the younger guys getting their first taste of the postseason.

"Enjoy it. I think a lot of times, we’re so focused on the game and so headstrong for doing well that we lose sight of having fun. This is what we all worked hard for at the end of the year. During the year, offseason, preseason to now; this is what we worked for, so let’s enjoy it," Beal said. 

"Enjoy our journey. A lot of teams didn’t think we would be here. Understand that and be prideful in that and take that out to the floor with you. It’s not going to be easy because everybody’s level of play has to rise up."

With how long it took to get back to the playoffs, it's not surprising Beal has gained some perspective along the way.