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Morning tip: Major step backwards for Wall-Beal duo

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Morning tip: Major step backwards for Wall-Beal duo

The next step never took place because Bradley Beal rarely stayed on the court long enough with John Wall in what was supposed to be a breakout season for them to solidify themselves as an elite backcourt that belonged in the same conversation with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

"It’s been a rocky year in terms of injuries, offense changing, getting used to playing with new guys on the team and adjusting to a few things," said Beal, who appeared in a career-low 55 games in his fourth season, before the Wizards' final game of the season that ended 41-41. "We both should’ve had a better year than we had. We should’ve carried the team a little better than what we did. We both can attest to it."

Golden State has the NBA's best backcourt of Curry and Thompson, and that's not up for debate. But the Wizards had an argument, particularly after last year's playoff run when Wall and Beal dominated Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (Ratpors) in the first round and then locked down Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver (Hawks), that they were elite. The shined against all four of those All-Stars on the brightest of stages.

Wall averaged a double-double when he returned to play two games vs. the Hawks with one hand because of a broken wrist. Beal averaged 25 points and totaled 22 assists in the three games that Wall missed. This likely was a team that was headed to the conference finals if not for Wall's injury.

In their first five games together to start the 2015-16 season, Beal scored 24 points (twice), 25 and 26 (twice) as the Wizards were 3-2. He made half of his 32 three-point attempts. Then came the flurry of injuries that began with a left shoulder contusion on Nov. 10 and the fourth stress reaction in his lower right leg exactly a month later that kept him away 16 games. When he returned, Beal was coming off the bench and playing under a minutes restriction.

Wall spent more time on the court with Garrett Temple and Gary Neal than Beal. Beal only started 35 times, also a career low, and just 32 with Wall. 

Before the Wizards played at the Brooklyn Nets on April 11, Wall and Beal hung out together. Although their chemistry is worth questioning, there doesn't appear to be any major issues between them though both have a long way to go in the leadership department. When Beal called out his teammates for underperforming in a back-breaking loss at the Sacramento Kings which all but ruined their playoff chances, Wall backed him up. They have to assume more control of the locker room to be successful.

"I think we're in a great place. We do a lot of talking, a lot of communication," Wall said. "If he didn't get hurt he was on pace to probably be an All-Star also. We would've been a better team. You take just about any team that has a main backcourt and you take Klay Thompson away from Steph for about 30 games it would be different."

In fact, Golden State looked beatable in Game 1 of their playoff series vs. the Houston Rockets on Saturday when Curry tweaked his ankle and left the game. They committed 11 of their 18 turnovers in the third quarter. The Warriors had a comfortable lead but were much easier to defend.

The same goes for the Wizards without Beal commanding double-teams. Wall averaged career highs of 19.9 points, 10.2 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals but wore down. Beal posted career highs of 17.4 points and 45% from the field. These stats prove that numbers in and of themselves don't prove anything. It's about the entire picture and the Wizards with this backcourt remain unfinished, but maybe it improves with a new offensive system now that Randy Wittman has been fired as coach. 

"As far as us two together it wasn’t anything unusual. There was no beef or anything like that," Beal, who is a restricted free agent this summer, said of his relationship with Wall. "We just didn’t play as well as we were supposed to. I think sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we tried to overdo it especially if one’s not playing and the other one is. There’s a lot of things that factor into it. Overall, it’s no excuse. We both should’ve had a better year than we had."

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Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

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USA Today Sports Images

Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

The Washington Wizards did not make any significant changes to their roster over the summer and valued continuity, knowing they had a solid group of young players on the rise. That sort of stand-pat approach could have resulted in a boring first half of the season, but the Wizards managed to ride quite the rollercoaster from October to the All-Star break. 

A lot of things happened. Some were good and some were bad, but the eventual result as we sit here today is the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and a 33-24 record, good for a 47-win pace. That's solid, especially considering the dramatic lows this team had to navigate through.

PODCAST: BREAKING DOWN THE WIZARDS' FIRST HALF

Here is a look at the biggest storylines of the 2017-18 Wizards season before the All-Star break...

Injuries played a role

During the 2016-17 season, the Wizards' starting lineup missed a combined 17 games. That group of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat logged more minutes than any other starting five in the NBA. In terms of health, that season was one big best-case scenario and it wasn't to happen again this season.

The Wizards ran into injury troubles before training camp even began when Morris needed sports hernia surgery. By November, Wall was dealing with a left knee injury and Porter has had hip issues all season. Beal and Gortat played in all 57 games, but Wall missed 20, Morris missed nine and Porter was out for four of them. This year their depth was tested much more than it was just one season ago.

RELATED: BEAL SHOWS HE BELONGS ON ALL-STAR STAGE

Inconsistency was a problem

For much of the first half, the Wizards just couldn't get out of their own way. They would rise up to play and often beat the good teams, then turn around and suffer terrible losses to some of the worst teams in the NBA. Many teams go through those types of issues, but the Wizards took it to an extreme. In the first half they beat the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors, Timberwolves and Thunder, yet lost to the Nets (twice), Mavs (twice), Lakers, Hawks and Hornets (twice).

It was a maddening trend and one the players and coaches were well aware of. As it kept plaguing them through the month of January, the Wizards appeared to have no answers, but they rebounded nicely in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break and some of their losses to teams that were sub-.500 at the time now don't look so bad. The Wizards, in fact, sit 19-9 against sub-.500 teams at the break. Only four teams in the East have more such wins. And the Clippers and Jazz, who were struggling at the time they beat the Wizards, rallied to now hold winning records and be factors in the playoff race.

Oubre and Satoransky emerged

The development of two young players in the first half of the season has vastly changed the Wizards' outlook in the short- and long-term. Kelly Oubre, Jr. took another step and gives them starter-caliber production off their bench. And Tomas Satoransky is now not just a replacement level backup point guard, but a real strength on their roster. 

Oubre continues to cut out his youthful mistakes on defense and has become one of their most consistent offensive players. He is third on the team in double-digit scoring games (38) with an average of 11.7 points, nearly double his output from last season. Satoransky is using his size and athleticism to affect games while making few costly errors. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team and leads the Wizards with a 46.8 three-point percentage. Both Oubre and Satoransky are providing value on both ends of the floor, have high ceilings and are on bargain contracts.

RELATED: BEAL DOESN'T LAST LONG IN THREE-POINT CONTEST

They rallied without Wall

The Wizards were dealt some news in late January that could have crippled their season. They learned that Wall, their best player, would be out up to two months following arthroscopic left knee surgery. He would likely miss well over 20 games and the Wizards had been significantly better with him than without him in the previous months.

The Wizards, though, responded exceptionally well. They won seven of their final nine games before the break after Wall went down. The others in their starting lineup stepped up and Satoransky proved he was more than just a placeholder. They likely won't be able to keep up the 7-2 pace, but the Wizards showed they can still compete and win while Wall is out. That will be important with a tough schedule coming up out of the break.

Locker room disagreements

The Wizards entered this season with heightened expectations and as a result couldn't tolerate some of their early season woes. There was a team meeting that didn't go as planned. There were things said in the media. Then, when Wall went out and the Wizards started playing better, people got carried away and said that Wall was holding the Wizards back. Wall even thought that sentiment was suggested by his teammates and aired his grievances publicly. 

That's what happens when teams have big goals and hit adversity, they point fingers and problems ensue. The Wizards, though, don't seem to have any major, untenable issues. However, their concerns need to be communicated better, not through social media or in front of cameras. That's what makes what could be considered normal locker room strife into national news.

RELATED: 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT HAS STACKED CLASS

 

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Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

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Associated Press

Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

Bradley Beal may have had a slow start in the three-point contest on Saturday night, but in Sunday's All-Star Game he worked quickly to make the most of his relatively small window of playing time.

Beal checked in for the first time with 5:45 left in the first quarter and less than 25 seconds later had his first points on a two-handed dunk assisted by LeBron James.

In his All-Star debut, Beal helped lead Team LeBron to a 148-145 victory over Team Stephen as the league utilizied a new format for the annual showcase.

RELATED: BEAL BOUNCED EARLY IN THREE-POINT CONTEST

Beal finished with 14 points and a steal in a productive night. He shot 5-for-10 from the field and an impressive 4-for-8 from long range. 

Beal also tried to get a travelling call from the refs on Karl-Anthony Towns. Yeah, that's not likely to happen in an All-Star Game:

Beal more than held his own and only played 16 minutes, which was good considering he has logged the fifth-most minutes of any player so far this season. A realistic best-case scenario was a strong showing and a short night and that's exactly what he got.

Not only does Beal play a lot of minutes, the Wizards need him now more than ever with John Wall's injury. He needs whatever rest he can get during this All-Star break.

Speaking of Wall, he was in the house despite being in the middle of his rehab from left knee surgery. Per usual, Wall was shining bright:

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The All-Star Game wasn't all about Beal, of course. Here are some other things that stood out...

*The new format and increased financial incentive were intended to make the game more competitive and that's what happened late in the fourth quarter. Usually, that's how these things go where the players will start trying at the end. But this time it seemed to be up a few levels and it was fun to watch. 

Both teams scored in the 140s, so it wasn't exactly a defensive battle. No matter what the league does, the players will only try so hard for so long. The main goal of everyone's is to not get injured in a game that ultimately doesn't count for anything. Still, this was different and appears to have been a success.

*While everyone was focusing on the reunion of LeBron and Kyrie Irving the best beef was Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook. Those two have traded waves to taunt each other at the end of wins in head-to-head matchups and it was clear on Sunday they still don't like each other. Westbrook tried to dunk all over Embiid in the first half, only to get blocked at the rim.

Westbrook's determination to dunk on Embiid was out of the ordinary for an All-Star Game. It was obvious what was on his mind:

*Irving's handles are simply ridiculous. Check out this fake behind-the-back move he pulled with Giannis Antetkounmpo guarding him. Yes, it didn't fool the defender but it was impressive nonetheless:

*LeBron is 33 years old, yet he was still running up and down the court faster than anyone and leaping above the rim to thrown down alley-oop after alley-oop. It is truly amazing and everyone should enjoy watching him while they can, regardless of whether they like the guy or not.

This was one of his dunks:

LeBron took home MVP with a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and a steal.

*The pregame show was quite bad. It was anchored by comedians Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle and, though they had some funny jokes, it lasted nearly 30 minutes. The whole thing was pretty much universally panned on social media. Fergie's national anthem was also roasted by the masses.

*The halftime show was much better. It began with N.E.R.D taking it back to their older days with 'Lapdance,' went to Migos performing 'Stir Fry' and swung back to N.E.R.D. who did their latest hit 'Lemon.' 

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