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Vipers coach: Rice will be fearless for Wizards

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Vipers coach: Rice will be fearless for Wizards

Glen Rice Jr. may be coming to the Wizards with some major question marks, but ability and confidence probably won’t be among them.

Rice, who was acquired in a trade on draft night from the Philadelphia 76ers, is a 6-5 shooting guard/small forward who led the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to the D-League championship last season.

"We played super up-tempo. We led the league in scoring (at 108.7 per game),” said Vipers coach Nick Nurse, who believes he’ll be a nice fit with point guard John Wall. “He can run to those corners and knock down those shots. Should be good. I know he won't be afraid to shoot them. That's for sure.

“Washington is a good spot for him. The talent's there. It's not always just about that. It’s about right place, right time, right system, right coach, right players. A lot of things got to come together. He's got a lot of talent. He's not afraid.”

In only one season, Rice exploded onto the scene. He played in 42 regular season games and averaged 13 points (49% shooting) and 6.2 rebounds in 24 minutes. In six playoff games, he contributed 25 points (47.3% shooting), 9.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 39 minutes.

Rice, 22, went under the radar in the draft because he was mostly forgotten about. He spent three seasons at Georgia Tech but was kicked out of school after a gun incident at an Atlanta nightclub.

Rather than transferring to another D-I school and having to sit out a year per NCAA rules, Rice went to Hidalgo, Texas, where he played for Rio Grande Valley, the D-League affiliate of the Houston Rockets.

“We had a really good experience with him here. He's got a lot of talent. Can shoot, can score, gets it to the basket, a pretty good rebounder for his position," Nurse said. "Maybe a slightly above average defender as well. That's probably people's biggest question mark about him. He did a good job defensively for us.”

D-League players aren't as big and physical as they are in the NBA, so Rice even played some power forward. That allowed him to do a lot of things to refine his game.

“Our league gets a little smaller at times. Basically he was a wing runner, three-point shooter, took it to the basket. We posted him up some,” Nurse said. “When he'd rebound he'd bring it up. We're pretty open. We do that stuff. 

“He's got a funky little game. I throw him in the crafty category. He gets by people. He kind of moves side to side, has the Euro-step. He moves the ball a lot when he's trying to score. He's a good ball-handler. He's got a little stuff to him in his one-on-one game."

Of course, what Rice is like off the court is what prevented him from being a first-round pick. Given his gun incident in college -- and the Wizards’ recent history with gun incidents in the locker room with Gilbert Arenas -- there’s a major concern about his maturity and if he fits with the new culture.

Coach Randy Wittman has been adamant about having a locker room free of drama and malcontents, and he felt that was accomplished when Jordan Crawford was traded to the Boston Celtics in February.

That shouldn't be a problem based on Nurse’s experience. Rice was responsible and a consummate professional who showed leadership qualities. 

“Obviously with some of the things that happened at Georgia Tech that was a concern, but he's a really likable kid. Our players really liked him. He's an intelligent kid, a hard-working kid. All of those things are a good start,” he said. “We didn't have any issues with him off the floor, never even heard whispers or rumors of anything off the floor. Never saw him on the road coming in late or any of that kind of stuff.

“We just tried to spell it out for him that he needed to keep his head down and let his play do his talking. That was it. He really did a good job with that. I've been in this league six years and I haven't seen too many rookies who have been that patient and just kept on working and put up those kind of numbers when they got that opportunity. It was a pretty impressive run by him. He's not a shy kid or a quiet kid, that's for sure. He's smart and kind of funny. Our players really liked him. He was kind of a focal point of our team, the kind of guy people gravitated to.”

Though Nurse only had Rice for a year, he’s knows where he has to work to succeed in Washington. The NBA will be more demanding. 

“The biggest adjustment he has to make is just the sheer size of the NBA players versus our league. A lot of the stuff you're getting to the rim and scoring in this league is going to get sent the other direction,” Nurse said. “Just trying to find ways to move it around the rim, get it in the hole when you attack the basket. Defensively, the speed and quickness and the talent of the guys he's going to be guarding is going to be a notch higher so he's going to have to be able to dig in and handle that too. I'm pretty confident he'll be able to do that. We had him guard a lot of wings. He's a pretty intelligent defender. He knows how to get around screens and where he's supposed to be on help and stuff like that."

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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.

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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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