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The Wizards are embracing a new challenge as underdogs fighting to stay relevant

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NBA: Washington Wizards-Media Day Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON—Media day was about new beginnings in Washington. They kicked off their first media day in their new practice facility right off of Alabama Avenue in Congress Heights on Monday.

It’s located just a hop, skip and a jump away from Capital One Arena—you can get there in 10 or 15 minutes with no traffic. But the difference in the surrounding community is stark. Capital One is on the opposite side of the city in Chinatown. The community is affluent and the area is already established.

Congress Heights? That’s a different story. The area is tough. It’s gritty. Take one wrong turn you’ll get lost in the depths of the city. The facility stands out like a sore thumb in a community that has been neglected for years and years until now.

It’s the perfect place for the Wizards to kick off their season. Media Day is the unofficial start of the NBA season where proclamations are made and standards are set. We’ll hold onto these quotes and standards until the season is over. And, much like their new facility, the Wizards are looking to start anew by building something special in a not-so-familiar space.

The days the Wizards were one of the darling teams of the NBA are over. No one is talking about Eastern Conference Finals anymore even with LeBron James in Los Angeles. Last season, the team was more vocal than they were good. They said the Cavaliers didn’t want to play them in the 2016 playoffs only to get dusted by James at every turn. They said they were a better team than the Celtics—something Markieff Morris reiterated on Media Day, by the way—only to not even make it far enough in the playoffs to prove their worth against them. And we all know how things went with the Raptors.

But wait, there’s more. Now, along with the Celtics and Raptors, the Wizards have to worry about the 76ers and Pacers who are both still on the come-up. The Wizards trended down last season. They bit off more than they could chew. They wrote checks they couldn’t cash, and now they’re paying for it by being pegged as a third-tier team in a lowly Eastern Conference.

Last season’s circumstances don’t matter—no one cares about health. Win games. Don’t talk, just play. Dwight Howard’s name doesn’t matter. Neither do John Wall or Bradley Beal’s All-Star appearances.

The Wizards have to come up with a formula that works for them and makes them a winner. That’s what this season is about. They can’t talk about it—they have to do it.

“We’ve just gotta perform,” Markieff Morris said. “I’m tired of talking about the roster.”

Wall agreed, saying that “on paper” this is one of the better rosters the Wizards have produced. But it doesn’t matter if they don’t win.

“Me and Brad been elite for a lot of years....but that doesn’t mean anything until you prove it on the court,” Wall said. “We just gotta go out and play basketball.”

Conversations about who they’re better than or whether they boast the NBA’s best backcourt are irrelevant, Beal said. “We’re done talking about it—there’s nothing more to talk about.”

This is a new start for the Wizards with a ton of pieces that no one else wanted. Austin Rivers has been maligned throughout his entire career for being coached by his father—he acknowledges as much. Howard is regarded as a locker room cancer. Jeff Green’s career was in question before LeBron James resurrected it last season.

There’s a real chance this formula may not work regardless of how much they believe in it, but the Wizards are confident. “I believe in my teammates, I believe in us,” Beal said, despite the failures of last season. But it’s one thing to say these things on media day—it’s another to actually execute them. So how do you do it? “Three A’s,” Beal continued. “Approach, adversity, and accountability.”

The Wizards have to approach every game this season like it will be their last. They’ll face adversity throughout the season, but have to overcome it. Everyone needs to be held accountable for their role, no matter what it is. “No man is higher than the next.”

That was a major issue last season, but it is for every locker room where things aren’t going as planned. The major issue is whether or not when that adversity hits this season, the Wizards will be able to stick through it and come out on top together, or if they’ll crumble like they did so many times last season. That will define the team’s success more than anything else.

They’re planting their flag in new, uncharted territory as the underdog. They won’t sneak up on anyone as a dark horse—we know how good they’ve been, but there’s a reason no one picks them. To change the narrative, they’ll have to show everyone we haven’t seen the best of them yet.