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What to expect from Wizards when regular season opens

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What to expect from Wizards when regular season opens

Now that the preseason is over, and the Wizards can focus on the Orlando Magic for Wednesday's regular-season opener, what can be expected in the early going? Based on their seven exhibition games in which they won four, here are my best guesses:

  • Kris Humphries, who started each game as the "stretch" power forward over Nene, will keep that role. He shot 10 of 28 from three-point range (35.7%), which is a huge improvement over his career average from long range when the games count 2 of 26 (less than 1%).  Although Drew Gooden would seem to be a better fit style-wise with the first group, the hope is that he's a better fit with the second group joining Nene.
  • John Wall had 22 turnovers in six preseason games, which is far too many but will be better. He clearly was taking risks, and even showboating at times, in ways that he wouldn't when the games count. Whether he'll be able to keep his turnovers to less than 3.0 per game is another matter. The Wizards play a fast pace and will have more possessions. But Wall won't be solely responsible for starting plays anymore. It's a reachable goal though most will bet against him being able to do it.
  • With Jared Dudley still not in form after returning from back surgery, Kelly Oubre will have to play a bigger role. "Bigger" here is a relative term. That doesn't mean he'll be averaging 20 minutes a game but that he'll get spot minutes behind Otto Porter. If he's able to hold is own, that's all that will be asked. Oubre can't focus on scoring or trying to do too much too early because coach Randy Wittman will have him on a short leash. It'll be defense and getting most of his buckets off hustle plays that keeps him on the floor. If he doesn't follow that script, he'll be parked on the bench and there could be more three-guard lineups to compensate.

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  • Nene has a sore right calf, but him missing the last four games of the preseason is probably more of a precautionary move to make sure he's healthy. The 7-footer played in 67 games last season, his most since 2010-11. Martell Webster's right hip injury seems more serious, an arthritic condition that results in constant pain. It'll be up to him whether or not he can play through it. Based on the tone of what I've been told about Webster by multiple people, I'm not optimistic about his ability to contribute.  
  • Marcin Gortat will have his best season, his third, with Washington. The additional open space on the floor requires him to run the floor and move without the ball, which is the strength of his game. This will produce more easy finishes and with Gortat likely exceeding his field-goal accuracy of a year ago (56.6%), which is his highest as a starter in the NBA.

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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."

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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."

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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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