(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

He was one of the first national commenters entrenched on the Wizards’ bandwagon, but Charles Barkley is still managing to make his faith appear very mod and cutting edge.

He said the Wizards were the third-best team in the Eastern Conference in early February. He repeated that claim in late February. He was the rare pundit who picked the Wizards over the Bulls in the first round. He even argued that the Wizards would sweep, and they might well have if Nene hadn’t gotten tossed from Game 3.

So what’s next for Barkley? How about a guarantee that the Wizards will play in the Eastern Conference finals, made during halftime of Monday night’s Western Conference game, and then repeated during TNT’s postgame show.

“The Wizards are gonna be in the Eastern Conference finals,” he said at halftime. “Guaranteed.”

“This team, they’re loaded,” Barkley said after the game. “In the first round of the playoffs they had a different leading scorer in every [win]? That’s remarkable. That is remarkable. To have a [different] leading scorer in every single playoff [win], that’s remarkable. But Ernie I’m gonna just tell you this: The Washington Wizards are going to the Eastern Conference finals.”

“No doubt in your mind?” Ernie Johnson asked.

“No doubt whatsoever,” Barkley insisted. “They got a better team. First of all Indiana’s lost confidence …”

“… And Washington’s couldn’t be higher,” Johnson added.

“But the thing is, their confidence is good, but they’ve got really good players,” Barkley continued. “You’ve got to give Ernie Grunfeld some credit. Obviously you got the No. 1 pick, you’re taking John Wall, he’s an All-Star. With Bradley Beal, they’re going to be the best backcourt in the NBA in the next couple years. Nene, he brought him in a couple years ago.

“Then I thought the final missing piece to the puzzle was going out and getting Gortat over the summer. Ariza is a really good veteran. If you remember, we said something earlier in the season when they picked up Andre Miller, we said this is gonna be a good fit because he’s going to be a great influence on Beal and Wall, and he’s come in and he’s played well and he’s been a great influence on those young guys. And the Washington Wizards are going to the Eastern Conference finals.”

It would be Washington’s first trip to that round since 1979. And it would be the first trip to a conference finals for any D.C. NBA, MLB, NHL or NFL team since the Caps went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998.