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After NBA Africa, Beal turns focus to Wizards

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After NBA Africa, Beal turns focus to Wizards

Soon, after this morning's NBA Africa Game in Johannesburg wraps up, Bradley Beal will be heading back to prepare for his fourth season with the Wizards. That'll include a stop with USA Basketball in Las Vegas and a small workout group that'll include backcourt mate John Wall. 

"I always told the league I would do something with Basketball Without Borders. When I have a free summer, an opportunity to do it, I would," Beal said via phone from South Africa, where the league will have its first organized game Saturday morning. "This was perfect. I'd never been to Africa before and this was such a great chance. There are other great players here and they're dedicating their time to be here as well. Why not me? ... I'm glad I did it. I'm enjoying every minute of it."

Beal's workout routine hasn't been interrupted. The facilities there are top notch. The exhibition game caps a week of camps as the NBA aims to expand the game globally. It already has grown deep roots in China.

"It's been a humbling experience. ... They look up to us. They're appreciative of everything we do," Beal said of his experience in Africa. "They're appreciative of who we are and the fact that we play basketball. ... Seeing all the neighborhoods and the communities that these people are raised in, seeing where they come from, how they still have positive attitudes, they're still smiling. They're still living their everyday lives."

Beal is joined by the likes of Chris Paul, Trey Burke, Nik Vucevic and other NBAers with ties to the continent such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis, Luol Deng and Bismack Biyombo. 

His offseason priorities typically include strengthening his legs to prevent a fourth stress reaction in his lower right one. And now without Paul Pierce, who left as a free agent for the Los Angeles Clippers, the responsibility of leadership shifts mostly onto the shoulders of the starting backcourt.

"It's a business at the end of the day. I can't be sad, can't be mad. He's a grown man," Beal said of Pierce's departure after a somewhat magical one-year run. "He can make the best decision for himself and his family. You have to respect that. I wish the best for him but whenever we compete we'll try to beat him. When he left it was sad because he was a big piece to our team but now we just have to rely on Otto (Porter) and Alan (Anderson) and Kelly (Oubre) to step up and Martell (Webster) as well to help us out.

"I'm going back to D.C. to work out for about a week, going to Vegas for USA (Basketball) for a few days. A few of us going to work out together, probably together go meet up somewhere as a team and then after that the season will be rolling around that time."

Wall and Beal haven't always performed like an elite tandem. But during their 10-game playoff run in which both were spectacular, they're on the right path. Summit meetings between them have taken place before but this appears to be their most significant step yet. 

"It was me and John's idea. We figure at some point in the offseason we all need to get together, make sure we're staying together, and push each other to continue to improve our games," Beal said. "We have a great system. We have a great core. We have a bunch of young guys. It's good for us to get to know each other a little better off the floor and continue to work."

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Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Most nights, with little variance, the Wizards know what they are going to get from John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. They are consistently what they are, both good and bad, and mostly good.

The same cannot always be said about Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. Both are capable of brilliance, it's just those moments come and go and sometimes with mysterious timing. Both players help the team more often than not, but can be unpredictable and enigmatic.

Monday night saw both Morris and Oubre at their best as the Wizards topped the Blazers 125-124 in overtime at the Moda Center. It was a worthy reminder of how much the two of them can change the outlook for the Wizards as a team on any given night.

Let's begin with Morris because this may have been the best game he's played with the Wizards since joining them in a Feb. 2016 trade. On both ends of the floor, he  was a force, but particularly on offense.

Morris erupted for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and 6-for-10 from three. His six threes were a career-high. He also had 10 rebounds, a block and a steal.

It was the most efficient night in Morris' career and, by one measure, one of the most efficient in franchise history. His 28 points were the most by a Wizards or Bullets player in 25 minutes or less since A.J. English dropped 30 points in 23 minutes in 1990.

Morris' threes were well-timed. He hit two in the extra period, including one with 38.5 seconds remaining to put the Wizards up four. He also made one with 1:04 left in regulation and another right before that with 1:39 to go, both to give the Wizards a lead at the time. 

The clutch threes invoked memories of a game-winner Morris hit in the very same building two seasons ago. That also happened to be his best year with the Wizards.

Morris has improved his three-point shooting in recent years with a career-best 36.7 percent last season. When he's knocking them down, the Wizards can be uniquely good at spacing the floor, as Wall and especially Beal and Porter can be dangerous from three.

What Morris did against Portland was a major departure from a pair of uninspired games to begin the season. He had 21 points and 12 rebounds total in his first two games, both losses, as he failed to compensate for Dwight Howard's absence. On Monday, he stepped up and helped lead the Wizards to victory.

Like Morris, Oubre had been scuffling through two games. A different version of him showed up in Portland.

Oubre amassed only 17 points in his first two games and shot just 5-for-16 from the field and 1-for-7 from three. Against the Blazers, Oubre scored 22 points and shot 9-for-13 overall and 3-for-3 from long range.

Oubre added six rebounds, a block and a steal and a host of winning plays that didn't show up in traditional stats. He drew a loose ball foul on Mo Harkless early in the fourth quarter and took a charge on C.J. McCollum with under two minutes in overtime.

Oubre played pretty much exactly how head coach Scott Brooks often says he should. He ran the floor in transition and attacked the rim when the ball swung his way. He was more selective with his three-point attempts than usual. He wreaked havoc on defense with deflections, didn't gamble for steals and he hustled for rebounds. 

Monday night showed the perfect version of both Morris and Oubre. The Wizards need that to be the model for how they aspire to play every single night. If they do, this team's ceiling is significantly higher.

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10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

The Washington Wizards beat the Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 in overtime on Monday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. We will get to the game, and we will get to many things done by the Wizards, but we begin with a moment from pregame. Apparently, it was Halloween costume night for the Blazers and Moe Harkless stole the show by dressing up as Tyrone Biggums from Chappelle's Show:

Adam Silver, if you're reading this, please institute a rule requiring every team to do a Halloween costume arrivals night. You owe us this.

2. Okay, now for the game. Kelly Oubre Jr. was one of the stars of the night with 22 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal.

Here is one of his first buckets, a shot off the glass that was not an easy one to get to go down:

3. In the first half, Bradley Beal picked up right where he left off last time he was in Portland when he dropped a career-high 51 points. He had 19 of his 25 total points in the first half, including this baseline drive after a nasty crossover:

4. Markieff Morris also had himself a night. He popped off for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and a career-high six threes. This was an athletic move around the rim you don't often see from Morris:

Was that some jelly from Keef? Not bad.

5. John Wall had a relatively quiet night for his standards with 16 points on 5-for-16 from the field with nine assists. Here was his best play, one of his signature chasedown blocks:

6. Back to Oubre. He was feeling it and even got Steve Buckhantz to drop a 'Tsunami Papi' reference on the broadcast:

For Buckhantz, as Oubre would say, "the wave is free."

7. Beal went cold in the third quarter, missing his first seven shots of the second half. But he got his groove back when the Wizards needed it most.

This three answered a go-ahead shot by Nik Stauskas and forced overtime:

Beal was super pumped:

8. Two of Morris' six threes came in overtime, including this one to help seal the victory. Morris knocked one down with only 38.5 seconds left and it put the Wizards up by four:

9. Wall helped put the Blazers down for good with a bank shot from the elbow. Some might say it was lucky, while others would say he called game:

Wall even had to hit the Blazers with a Jordan shrug. Portland has seen that before.

10. The Blazers had a chance in the final seconds, but Otto Porter Jr. put the finishing touches on the win with this block on Damian Lillard's buzzer-beater attempt. Though Porter didn't have huge numbers - he scored 16 points - his fingerprints were all over this win:

What an incredible game. We can all agree the Wizards and Blazers should play more often. Well, maybe not the Blazers. The Wizards have had a lot of fun at their expense in recent years.

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