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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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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually come into existence. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclamations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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