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Morning tip: Wizards' win still leaves a lot to be desired

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Morning tip: Wizards' win still leaves a lot to be desired

The positive to be drawn from the Wizards' win over the Phoenix Suns is just that -- they won. But it took a furious fourth quarter to put away a 20-win team that entered with a four-game losing streak. 

"First half we got hurt more on 50/50 balls, second shots. We didn't do a good enough job, gave them extra opportunities," coach Randy Wittman said after the 106-99 win that ended the Wizards' two-game losing streak with one game left on the five-game trip. "They had 27 second-chance points."

With faint hopes of making the postseason, the Wizards (37-39) still aren't playing well enough. They haven't been above since .500 when they were 6-5 in November. 

A win at the L.A. Clippers on Sunday will make for a winning record on the road at 3-2 as they head back to Verizon Center. But they're currently 2.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers (39-36) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. And since they lost the tiebreaker to Indiana, they'll need to be one game better to get the nod.

John Wall (22 points, 10 assists) was two rebounds shy of a triple-double, getting 12 of his points in the first quarter. The tone of the game changed in the fourth quarter because of what they did defensively.

"We just started defending," Wall said. "They were killing us on the boards all night. ... When we play defense and we're locked in, we're a totally different team. That's the only reason we won this game. We started to get defensive stops."

Still, there were a few things to not like about how Washington played:

  • Wall's quotes spell out the problem. The Wizards can't just turn it on and play lockdown defense for 12 minutes for one quarter. All teams will have their lapses, but there has to at least be a commitment for 48. This is good enough to beat the Suns without Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren, Brandon Knight or Jon Leuer. Not the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets who are on the remaining schedule. 

  • Bradley Beal (21 points) only had two shots in the first quarter and didn't make his first bucket until two minutes into the second quarter as the only starter on the floor. For one of the NBA's most promising young backcourts, that's glaring. Beal's first bucket playing with Wall came on an assist at 9:25 of the third.

  • Points in the paint for the Suns (44) were indicative of their ability to get in the lane and get extra chances on putbacks. In the first 40 minutes, the worst team in the league (more than 16 per) only had 10 turnovers. It wasn't until eight minutes were left hat they fumbled the ball six more times. 

"We just picked up our defensive intensity," said Markieff Morris, who had 21 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in his return to where he'd played for four-plus seasons before being traded to Washington two months ago. "The same way we're supposed to play at the beginning of the game, that's how we played in the fourth. We made some big shots and got some big stops."

Again, why did it take so long? This team has proven they're not good enough to get away with this against quality teams and the truth is that the Suns aren't one of them.

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After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

If anyone on the Wizards deserves some time off to rest it's Bradley Beal, who currently ranks fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. While his teammates were off on vacation, many of them at relaxing beaches far away, Beal was making appearance after appearance in Los Angeles as part of All-Star weekend.

The one drawback of Beal being selected as an All-Star and a contestant in the three-point contest was that he got little rest in the past week. He only made it one round in the three-point contest and played 16 minutes in the All-Star Game, but all of it was enough to soak up much of the free time he's used to getting this time of the year.

"Not as much as I needed to," Beal said when asked if he got any rest over the break. "I guess that's one of the downfalls of being an All-Star."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

The workload has really added up for Beal. He leads the Wizards in minutes (36.4/g) and is one of two players on the team who hasn't missed a game all season.

Beal did have Monday and Tuesday off, but that was after a crosscountry flight and a whirlwind of a weekend. He called the media and sponsorship appearances "overwhelming." Many All-Stars have been there before and know what to expect, but Beal was a first-time participant.

Beal and the Wizards will be given no breaks with their upcoming schedule. They have four back-to-back sets in the next three weeks and begin with a stretch of five games in seven days. Those games will feature the Cavs, Warriors, Bucks, Sixers and the Hornets. Charlotte is the only team of that bunch currently out of the playoff picture, but they have already beaten the Wizards twice this season.

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For Beal, it will be extra important to get any rest that he can.

"I will definitely be smart," he said. "I just gotta take care of my body. Listen to my body."

Beal says getting treatment from the Wizards' training staff in between games will be crucial. He also hopes to not over-exert himself in games by trusting his teammates and not trying to carry the load with John Wall out.

Though Beal may be tired from the weekend, he came out of it feeling pretty good about how he represented himself and the Wizards on the All-Star stage. He scored 14 points in 16 minutes in a game featuring the best players on the planet.

Beal now wants to make it an annual thing.

"I defintiely think it can push you more down the line. For me, it's just motivation to continue geting better," he said.

RELATED: WIZARDS HAVE BIG QUESTIONS TO ANSWER IN SECOND HALF

 

 

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

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Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

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