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Bradley Beal continues to prove worthy of $128 million max contract

Bradley Beal continues to prove worthy of $128 million max contract

In NBA free agency, as such was the case with Bradley Beal last summer, it's a futures market more than about the present. A 23-year-old shooting guard with his size, shooting/scoring potential and defensive ability may have yet to come to full bloom, but if he does the dividends can be endless. On a Sunday, 26 games into a season that began awkwardly, the Wizards are counting those blessings.

Beal had 41 points, one short of his career high set Nov. 21 vs. the Phoenix Suns, in a 117-110 comeback win over the L.A. Clippers at Verizon Center. It's his fifth game of 30-plus points this season, more than he'd amassed in his four previous injury-riddled campaigns. 

"The basket was like an ocean, after the first half," Beal said, who had 17 points in the first two quarters. "Guys stayed confident. A game like this, you're always gassed up. ... I was fortunate to get some open looks and knock them down."

After a right hamstring strain kept Beal out for three games, he has returned with a vengeance and the Clippers were torched by the shooting guard who alone scored 18 points in the third quarter. It set a new high for him in any quarter, surpassing his previous high of 15. Beal shot 13-for-23 overall, 6 of 10 on threes, and was 9-for-11 on free throws. J.J. Redick was helpless chasing Beal and Austin Rivers, the coach's son and one of the Clippers' better perimeter defenders, couldn't do it either.

"I told him to go and shut Beal off," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who was ejected late in the fourth. "And he jokingly said, 'He's on fire.' It's tough to put out a fire once a guy is on fire. Give Beal credit, he made big shots."

With the Wizards shorthanded because of injuries to Kelly Oubre (concussion), Ian Mahinmi (right knee) and Jason Smith (right hamstring), Beal and backcourt mate John Wall had to do more than usual which is saying something. Wall locked down defensively and his ball pressure forced Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford into a combined seven turnovers. While DeAndre Jordan had his share of dunks rolling to the basket on lobs, the easy baskets were limited because of Wall's ball pressure.

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' big win over Clippers]

The Wizards (12-14) had a spirited effort in the first half but trailed 55-52 at the break. Markieff Morris, who was key to any chances they had of winning, already had three fouls. He picked up his fourth at 8:49 but coach Scott Brooks stuck with him. 

What quickly became a 65-54 deficit was all but erased by Beal in two minutes. He had a drive for the and-one three-point play, made consecutive three-point shots, made 2 of 3 free throws, a 26-foot three-pointer and then a bank shot. His steal led to Wall having a layup.

A three-pointer for Beal tied the score at 102 with 5:01 left. Wall (18 points, 11 assists, five rebounds) and Morris (23 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals) put the finishing touches as a 9-2 run created the separation needed for the Wizards' third win in a row.

"Brad looked like a totally different person," Paul said. "A lot more aggressive. This is the Bradley Beal he should be all the time. ... For this team to be as good as they want to be, he has to be like that."

When Wall signed what was then a max contract at $80 million in the summer of 2013, he hadn't even become an All-Star. The Wizards, however, were banking on his progress and being healthy after having knee issues that he'd grow into it. They were correct because Wall made his first All-Star game as a reserve before being voted in as a starter. 

Beal has an extensive injury history with his lower right leg that has never required surgery, but he has yet to reach All-Star status. The Wizards played the long game with him, too. He's 23 and was a restricted free agent when there weren't many quality shooters available. Plus, there were no young players among that group. Dwyane Wade, who soon will be 35, was among the other options.

When a player such as Beal hits the market, it's not just about what he's worth at that moment. It's what he'll be worth over the life of what became a five-year deal. A player can be a superstar, such as Kobe Bryant with lots of accomplishments, but at the time of he was being paid $25 million per the returns were diminishing. With Beal, the returns are steadily increasing with not just his shot-making but his creation. He had a career-high nine assists last week when the defense loaded up on him to take him away.

Wall's defense is getting better as he has gotten in better shape since two knee surgeries May 5. Beal has been playing at a high level defensively for most of the season which adds to his value. 

"We showed our hand so now there's no excuses for us moving forward," Beal said. "We showed that we can be an elite team and that we can compete at a high level, and that we can win games in close situations at the end of a game. It's up to us to just continue to stay humble and keep the same mentality going forward."

[RELATED: Oubre travels with Wizards, but status uncertain]

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

The Washington Mystics lost to the Las Vegas Aces 92-75 on Sunday evening in Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals. Here are five observations from the game.

1. There is an argument to be made that the two most talented teams remaining in the WNBA playoffs are facing each other in the Semifinals, that the toughest team the Mystics will see in the postseason are these Las Vegas Aces, even if they end up advancing. Sunday served a reminder of the Aces' top-end talent, as they punched back to avoid a sweep with a Game 3 win, ensuring these teams will play at least one more time.

The Mystics had three opportunities to clinch the series, now they have two. Their next chance will be Tuesday, again in Las Vegas. If Sunday's game was any indication, they will meet a raucous Aces crowd once again at Mandalay Bay.

2. To find where things went wrong for the Mystics, look no further than the second quarter where midway through they got their doors blown off leading into halftime. Washington was up 33-31 with 5:13 left in the second quarter when the Aces closed the frame on a 16-4 run. They outscored the Mystics 24-13 in the quarter overall.

It was ugly. The Mystics couldn't hit a shot and lost control on offense. They had eight turnovers in the quarter and many of them proved costly. They scored only four points in the final seven minutes of the half. Their 37 points at halftime tied a season-low.

The trouble continued in the third, as the Mystics were outdone 32-25. But the momentum shifted in that second quarter and Washington never got it back. After scoring 102 points in Game 2, they topped out at 75 in this one.

3. The Mystics had no answer for the Aces' dynamic duo of Liz Cambage and A'ja Wilson. Cambage put up 28 points with six rebounds, two steals and a block. She shot an impeccable 12-for-15 from the field.

It was the type of performance where if you only saw this game, you would think she was the most dominant player in the WNBA. At 6-foot-9, all the Aces had to do on some plays was throw the ball up the air where only she could get it.

Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. She had 21 points, eight boards, two blocks and two steals. She made five of her first six shots and finished 8-for-14 overall.

The first quarter saw Cambage, Wilson and Kayla McBride score all of the Aces' points. They went to work thanks to point guard Kelsey Plum's ability to penetrate and set up open shots. Plum had nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Speaking of Plum, people were mad online this week about an NBA writer saying she is the 'James Harden of the WNBA.' Many thought the comparison was unnecessary and also simplistic because they are left-handed guards.

Set aside the outrage and it is simply just a bad take. Harden is known for playing patiently, if slowly, while Plum is the fastest player on the court.

4. The star of this series before Sunday was undoubtedly Emma Meesseman, who was able to score even more points in Game 1 than she did in Game 2, even though she had been moved up the scouting report. In Game 3, she finally went cold, managing only six points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field and 0-for-2 from three.

Though Meesseman had eight points, three assists and two steals, she missed a series of open shots and also didn't have a great game defensively. There were several breakdowns that allowed Cambage open paths to the rim and on a few occasions Meesseman was to blame. 

Meesseman is an X-factor for the Mystics and so far the game results have matched her individual production. When she plays well, it changes everything.

LaToya Sanders, who had 17 points in Game 2, also struggled. She had only four points in 24 minutes. That wouldn't have been a problem if she wasn't taking shots, but she went 2-for-9 from the field as the Aces left her open on several occasions. 

They bet on the fact Sanders isn't usually an offensive threat, especially from the outside, and this time it worked out for them. It would be understandable if Sanders had some extra confidence after what she did in Game 2, but Game 3 was a reminder that her best role is as a defensive specialist.

Meesseman and Sanders' shooting woes contributing to an overall bad night for the Mystics. They shot 38.6 percent collectively. That's not what you expect from the most efficient scoring team in WNBA history.

5. The eight turnovers in the second quarter were an extreme, but giveaways proved a major difference. They had 13 total in this game, far more than the six they had in each of the first two games this series.

The Mystics are the best team in the WNBA at protecting the ball. And so far this series, the Aces have proven quite dangerous in transition when they can push the pace off of missed baskets or miscues. 

Washington will have to clean that up moving forward, especially Ariel Atkins, who had five all by herself. Also, Natasha Cloud had zero turnovers with 14 assists through the first two games, but had three giveaways in this one alone.


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Mystics unable to complete a sweep, fall to Las Vegas Aces in Game 3

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Mystics unable to complete a sweep, fall to Las Vegas Aces in Game 3

A rare poor shooting night plagued the Washington Mystics as the WNBA Semifinals have shifted toward Las Vegas. As the highest-scoring team in WNBA history was unable to get on the right track in Game 3, the Las Vegas Aces grab a season-saving victory, 92-75. 

Not once did the Mystics get into a coherent flow on the night. They shot 38.6% (27-of-70) from the field and an even worse 33.3% (11-of-13) from behind the arc. In the regular season, their season averages were 46.9% and 36.6% respectively.

Aside from Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver, no one managed to get into a grove. Delle Donne was the only Mystics’ starter to scored more than six points. She had 22 points but with a team-worst minus-21.

The only time Washington strung together a series of points was when the WNBA MVP Delle Donne took over the game. She scored eight straight points for Washington in the first quarter to tie the game at 19. Back-to-back 3-pointers gave the team their best offensive spurt of the game. However, it would not last long. 

Moments later, a huge 14-2 Aces run in the second propelled Las Vegas to a 41-33 lead. From there the Aces would not relinquish it for the remainder of the contest. The difference eventually grew to a series-high 22 in the waning moments off a layup by Kayla McBride.

Liz Cambage was basically unstoppable for the Aces with 28 points and a highly efficient 12-of-15 shooting night. Just as importantly she helped shut down the Mystics star of the first two games of the series, Emma Meesseman to only six points. Also, she essentially drew a technical from Mystics' coach Mike Thibault after she got away with a high elbow that was not called.

A'ja Wilson added 21 points for the Aces while McBride had 18. 

Nights like these are rare for Washington. Throughout the year they scored more than 100 points a WNBA-record 15 times. Four times did they fail to score more than 75 points.

The loss prevents the Mystics from completing a three-game sweep of the Aces. As Washington still leads the series 2-1, Game 4 will be on Tuesday with the time still TBD.