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Bradley Beal's return helps key Wizards win over Knicks

Bradley Beal's return helps key Wizards win over Knicks

For Bradley Beal to make his return from right hamstring tightness on Thursday night, he needed the finishing touches of more than a week of treatment by the Wizards' training staff and one final test, a workout on the court at the Verizon Center about 90 minutes before Washington was set to tip-off with the New York Knicks. 

He also had within him an extra bit of motivation. Beal was already targeting this game to come back after missing three games, but what transpired the night before in Philadelphia left Beal even more determined to return.

Beal sat on the sidelines on Wednesday in Philly seething as the Wizards lost to one of the NBA's worst teams, the Sixers, knowing he could have helped if he was on the floor.

"I was real frustrated last night from our loss. I just really wanted a win," Beal said. "I wanted to come back today and hopefully, God willing, my body would feel good. And it did tonight."

Beal's return was integral in a 119-112 Wizards' victory against New York. He scored 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting with five assists in 29 minutes. He was 3-for-6 from three and a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line.

Beal helped orchestrate an impressive performance for the Wizards offensively. They shot 54.3 percent from the field and 60 percent (15-of-25) from three. 

For one night, everything clicked on both ends of the floor.

"It brings a whole different dimension to our team having Brad back," forward Markieff Morris said. "He's an elite scorer and a great defender. That made it easy for us to put the ball in the basket."

“It definitely opens it up for us. He gets so much attention, I think it helps everybody," forward Otto Porter said. "We need his ability to create for himself and create for others and knock down shots.”

Thursday night was also the first time this season that John Wall was available in the second game of a back-to-back set, and naturally the Wizards looked like a much better team. Though they are just 3-9 on the season, they are 3-4 with Beal and Wall in the lineup.

"It is good to have him back. Having Brad out there, we are a different team for obvious reasons," head coach Scott Brooks said. "We're a different team when we have all of our guys together. I don't use it as an excuse. I never told the guys 'hey, great game but too bad we lost and we don't have our guys.' I tell the guys that we have enough to win. But we are a better team when all of our guys are healthy."

The Wizards are off on Friday before hosting the Miami Heat (3-8) on Saturday night. Beal's hamstring, which he first tweaked on Nov. 9 against the Celtics, will still be monitored moving forward. Beal, in fact, had to play through some discomfort on Thursday night in order to return.

“It’s more of a mental thing, just being able to take some type of pain, some type of soreness. It’s tough with a hamstring because it’s not going to all the way clear up on you," Beal said. "You’re not going to go back to 100 percent, you’re going to have to work through some things. I was able to tolerate some soreness and stiffness and it actually feels a little bit better."

"We'll see how he feels tomorrow, but I don't anticipate any issues," Brooks said.

[RELATED: TAKEAWAYS FROM WIZARDS' BLOWOUT WIN VS. KNICKS]

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Wizards can make playoff push with weak 10-game schedule before All-Star break

Wizards can make playoff push with weak 10-game schedule before All-Star break

After the Wizards suffered a crushing loss to the Chicago Bulls last Wednesday, guard Bradley Beal expressed frustration with the team’s culture of losing. He intimated a desire to win more, even with a general expectation that the team would struggle this season.

"I don't like losing, I'm sorry," Beal said after the loss. "Especially winnable games."

His sentiments stand in direct contrast to those of many fans, and maybe some within the organization, who would prefer the team’s losing ways continue through the season and land Washington a top pick in this summer’s draft. But with 10 games remaining before the All-Star break, a realistic path still exists for Beal’s wishes to come to fruition and the Wizards to make a playoff push.

Washington kicked off a four-game road trip with Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Southeast Division rival Miami Heat. A win would’ve been huge in sparking a climb up the Eastern Conference standings, but with games at the Cleveland Cavaliers (12-32) tonight and Atlanta Hawks (11-34) on Sunday, the Wizards still have a chance to pull to 2-1 this trip before ending it Tuesday against the powerhouse Milwaukee Bucks.

The Wizards then come home for a six-game stretch at Capital One Arena that includes games against five teams with sub-.500 records; the Charlotte Hornets (15-30), Brooklyn Nets (18-24), Golden State Warriors (10-36), Memphis Grizzlies (20-24) and Bulls (17-29). Only the Dallas Mavericks, who they play after the Warriors, have a winning record over that stretch. Finally, the Wizards visit the Knicks (12-33) on Feb. 12 before getting an eight-day break in the schedule.

The Wizards are currently 12th in the Eastern Conference but just 4 ½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. This 10-game stretch includes just two opponents with winning records, and Washington’s lowly 14-29 record is better than half of the remaining eight teams. The games against the Nets, Bulls and Hornets, three of the four teams between Washington and the eighth seed, provide ample opportunity to make up ground.

The Wizards are in the position they’re in, of course, because like many of these upcoming opponents, they haven’t been a very good team. But while this stretch won’t be a walk in the park, it’s likely where the trajectory of this season will finally be determined. If the Wizards are able to go 6-4 or better, the conversation around how this season ends could change going into the break. If they finish under .500, their long-presumed fate as a lottery team will likely be sealed.

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The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

Since acquiring Davis Bertans from the Spurs in exchange for the rights to Aaron White, the Wizards have unlocked the sharpshooter's full offensive potential. 

In San Antonio, Bertans was known more as a spot-up, floor-stretching power forward. Now? He's one of the most feared snipers in the NBA with his ability to come off screens, get his shot off quickly and drill threes from just about anywhere on the court. 

Bertans should without a doubt be invited to compete in the NBA's three-point contest at All-Star weekend. Jordan McRae is leading the campaign charge and the Wizards recently started a campaign to get him there as well. 

So as we await word on whether Bertans will be invited or not, let's lay out his claim as one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the league and how he stacks up against everyone else. 

By the numbers

Bertans is shooting 42.4 percent on 8.7 three-point attempts per game, which is absurd efficiency at that volume. 

Of the 14 players that take at least eight threes per game, nobody is shooting at a higher clip than Bertans.

He's also second in the league in three-point makes per game (3.7), trailing only James Harden. For players who make at least three triples per game, Bertans has the third-highest shooting percentage on his looks. 

If that's not enough, Bertans leads the NBA in catch-and-shoot makes from deep this season (3.2). The three-point contest closer resembles catch-and-shoot opportunities rather than shooting threes off the dribble. If Bertans were to compete in such a setting, he'd feel right at home. 

Supreme confidence

Confidence is one of the most crucial traits of a great shooter, and Bertans has no shortage of self-assurance.

He could be 0-for-7 from three and 2-of-10 from the field, but that wouldn't stop Bertans from taking a 30-footer with the game on the line. 

Speaking of 30-footers, Bertans is more than comfortable launching shots from several feet beyond the three-point line. If he ends up shooting in the three-point contest, I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to move the ball racks back a few feet just for kicks. 

After a game in which he made six threes against the Hornets, Bertans was asked if there was a three he felt was too deep for him to take. His response?

"I haven't found that yet."

The competition

Last year there were 10 participants in the three-point contest at All-Star weekend. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant hurt this season, you have arguably the three best snipers in the NBA all sidelined with serious injuries. 

Without those three, I'm not sure there are five shooters in the league better than Bertans, let alone 10. 

As of now, there have been three reported invites to the contest. Luka Doncic (32.7 3P%), Trae Young (37.3) and Duncan Robinson (42.9), though it's not yet clear if those players will accept. 

Bertans is in line for a nice payday this summer based on his play so far this year, but his recognition around the league shouldn't stop there. 

All you need to do is watch a Wizards game when Bertans hits a few threes in a row and look at how the defense reacts to him. They abandon their entire gameplan to run Bertans off the three-point line. 

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