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Defense separates Wall and Beal from Lillard and McCollum

Defense separates Wall and Beal from Lillard and McCollum

From the start of the season, John Wall had been lacking on the defensive end as he rounded into shape from surgeries to both knees. Bradley Beal, for the most part, has been solid. Monday, with both playing at maximum capacity, what they can be on both ends was on full display in a blowout of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Before the 2016-17 season tipped, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum would've slotted ahead of Wall and Beal among NBA backcourts. They were coming off a surprising 44-38 playoff run. The Wizards missed out after finishing 41-41. 

"Everyone knew this was a game of two good backcourts going against each other and to me that was something that I took personally," Beal said. "That's something John takes personally."

Wall and Beal owned the head-to-head matchup, combining for 49 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and five steals in less than 29 minutes each. 

"When we play defense and get rebounds and get out in transition, teams get to collapse when I am penetrating and just finding guy and moving the ball very well," said Wall, who was playing with protection for his right pinkie finger that he injured last week. "Guys are knocking down shots and shooting with confidence."

Beal earned his game-high 25 points on just 11 shots. Wall had his 24 on 17 shots. Kelly Oubre was 3-for-4 on three-pointers, Otto Porter 3-for-5, Beal 3-for-3 and Wall 2-for-3. 

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' blowout win over Blazers]

In all, the Wizards shot 13-for-23 from long range (56.5%), had an 18-8 edge in fast-break points. Lillard and McCollum combined for 34 points on 11-for-29 shooting. 

McCollum picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter, unable to stay in front of Beal who kept his dribble alive to attack the seams. Lillard scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half when he was held to 5-for-14 shooting.

"They're aggressive. Wall does a good job of setting the table for everybody," McCollum said of Wall. "They run a lot of floppy (actions), a lot of transition, he's pushing the tempo. He's aggressive in transition looking for his shot as well. They're very good. Very good team."

The Blazers turned over the ball eight times in the first quarter to help the Wizards (21-19) get out to a 10-0 lead. They were too late to stop the floppy actions that Beal uses, curling or flaring off baseline screens to create separation to get off his shot or playmake for others. They didn't switch properly to take it away. They relied on the guard to lock and trail the Wizards' guards but it was unsuccessful, too. 

Washington got all of the shots it wanted. Portland did not, with Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee being forced into taking shots out of their wheelhouse instead. Even if they were to make them, it's better than allowing Lillard and McCollum to get their shots in their comfort zone that break down the defense.

[RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Blazers]

Marcin Gortat didn't have a great game on the offensive end for himself, only with six points on 3-for-9 shooting, but his support to clog the paint negated dribble penetration in ways that his counterpart Mason Plumlee could not for Portland.

"It was our defense," Beal said. "It was probably our best overall game defensively, for a full 48, and that's why we won."

A year ago, the Wizards lost both games to Portland, including an embarrasing one at home on MLK Day. And after Lillard went for 41 points and 11 assists at Moda Center, he was nationally hailed as a better point guard than Wall and better in tandem with McCollum. While Lillard is a better shooter, but there's more to the position than points in a boxscore. Wall and Beal are better defensively than Portland's backcourt, and Beal can be just as much a lethal scorer like McCollum.

"He's had a very good season. He pushes it. He gets to the rim. He can shoot perimeter jump shots," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Wall. "It though he was good defensively."

Lillard and Wall will have their moments against one another. A good game nor a better single season proves anything. The Wizards have a 1-0 edge in the season series, and having the better team usually results in more recognition. The Blazers dropped to 18-25.

It's the games against T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas when Wall and Beal tend to dip, calling into question their focus and eliteness against pedestrian tandems when playing the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers. 

"John started the game very well," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "Locked in, engaged defensively and not giving him any easy feelgood shots because when you give a great player a feelgood shot all of a sudden it's hard to stop him."

[RELATED: Tomas Satoransky after double-double vs. Portland]

 

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Wizards' 2018-19 storyline No. 2: Can the core players of Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre reach another level?

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USA Today Sports

Wizards' 2018-19 storyline No. 2: Can the core players of Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre reach another level?

With Wizards training camp set to begin next week, we at NBC Sports Washington are counting down the five biggest storylines for the team as they start a new season. Today, at No. 2, a look at the Wizards' young core and how those players can make another leap...


In signing Dwight Howard and Jeff Green, trading for Austin Rivers and drafting Troy Brown, Jr., the Wizards arguably added more talent to their roster this summer than they did in any recent offseason. Yet, the ceiling for this team will once again be determined mostly by a familiar dynamic. The best and most likely way for the Wizards to significantly change their fortune as a team is for one or several of their young, core players to make a big leap in their development.


Those core players would be John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr. and Kelly Oubre, Jr., four first round picks drafted between 2010 and 2015 who have served as the nucleus of their recent success. 


Wall, Beal and Porter in particular are the straws that stir the drink. Oubre is worth including because of his pedigree and potential and because this, a contract year, is such an important season for him.


There are reasons to believe that all four of the Wizards core players can get better, despite what they have already shown at the NBA level.


Wall, at 28 and entering his ninth NBA season, is probably looking for more incremental improvement at this point in his career. He has already made five All-Star teams and earned All-NBA honors. As long as he's healthy, which wasn't the case last season, the Wizards know what they are going to get.


That said, it may be unreasonable to expect Wall to make another major leap in his career. It's possible he has already entered his prime and his peak as a basketball player. If there is another level for him to reach, he will likely need to get there soon, as he's two years away from turning 30.


When healthy, Wall is one of the 10 or so best players on the planet. More consistent defense and more efficient scoring are the ways he can move up the ladder. Also, simply going further in the playoffs would change a lot about how he is perceived among NBA superstars.


At 25, Beal is young enough to have a lot of room to grow. Last year was his first All-Star season. If he has another gear, the logical next step would be All-NBA honors and perhaps going from a guy who scores 22-23 points per game to one of the elite scorers in the league.


Porter is also 25 and therefore may still not be in his prime. He has emerged as one of the most efficient players in the entire NBA and is as reliable as anyone on the Wizards. But to become an All-Star or an All-NBA candidate, Porter will need to have volume numbers to buoy his high shooting percentages. 


Bad players in the NBA have neither volume or efficiency, good players have one or the other, while true stars have both. Porter may take his game to the next level simply by taking more shots and expanding his role from a usage perspective. If he can maintain his efficiency while adding a few points per game to his scoring average, Porter will enter another echelon as a player.


Oubre has more room to develop than the other three because he is younger and less accomplished. He is 22 and entering the final year of his rookie scale contract.  


The Wizards have kept Oubre around, hoping for a breakout year much like they saw from Beal and Porter at this point in their careers. Those guys did not get contract extensions from Washington before their rookie deals were up, but ended up with max money. If Oubre can follow a similar track, the Wizards will be significantly better.


Wall, Beal, Porter and Oubre are all at different points in their careers and have a wide range in their room to grow. Their continued development will be the most important indicator for the Wizards' success this year and beyond.

 

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Caps winning, new practice facility has Ted Leonsis thinking bigger for Wizards: 'No excuses'

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AP

Caps winning, new practice facility has Ted Leonsis thinking bigger for Wizards: 'No excuses'

No matter what happens this fall and winter, the year of 2018 was a big one for Ted Leonsis. His Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup and the new practice facility and arena for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go in Ward 8 was opened. Even his Valor won the Arena Football League and Wizards District Gaming played their inaugural season.


The Caps winning and the St. Elizabeth East Entertainment and Sports Arena opening its doors has Leonsis thinking bigger and particularly when it comes to the Wizards. As he puts it, there are "no excuses" anymore. It's time to accomplish their goals and Leonsis has some specific ones in mind.


"We need to raise the expectations. We have to make the playoffs. I'd like us to win 50 games. I'd like us to go to the Eastern Conference Finals," Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington.


Leonsis, in many ways, feels like he has done his part as the owner. He has given the Wizards the resources to compete and win at the highest level. They have the salary commitment - the Wizards are fourth in the NBA in payroll ($134.9M) - and the facilities that any team in the NBA would covet.


"We have one of the highest payrolls in the league with the Wizards. They have a beautiful, world-class practice facility. They're healthy entering the year," he said. "Alright Wizards. If you have this practice facility and one of the highest payrolls in the league and you're getting well-tended for your health, nutrition and the like; no excuses. Let's play ball."


When it comes to the practice facility, it's much more than just added space, new locker rooms and shiny courts. The Wizards will have at their disposal the newest training technology and all the medical resources they need from Medstar. 


The facility has a virtual reality room, which goes way beyond the headsets and cameras they have utilized in recent years. They will also have a sensory deprivation tank. 


It's a pod that fills with salt water and allows people to float without light or sound. The benefits include decompression of the spine, alleviation of soreness and muscle tension and stress relief. In case you are wondering, they aren't cheap.


The weight room at the Medstar performance center is also calibrated for different exercises and methods. And with more space, the Wizards can continue to move into the future from a technology perspective and stay ahead of the curve.


"It's not just being an early-adopter. If you make an investment in this size and scale, you'll be at an advantage because you can build in and not add on a lot of that right into the utility of the building," Leonsis said.


In having this type of facility for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go, Leonsis hopes those teams can follow the model that worked for the Capitals. The Caps have had a specialized training facility in Ballston, Va. for years and have benefitted from a strong minor league system, most notably with the Hershey Bears. That top-to-bottom approach can help the Wizards, in particular, as they now have a G-League affiliate.


The foundation is in place for the Wizards to someday compete for an NBA championship. Many never expected to see the day the Capitals would reach the mountaintop. Now the Wizards can follow the blueprint.


"We've proven that there is no [D.C. sports] curse," Leonsis said. "If you are patient and work hard and are committed to continuous improvement than you can win a championship."

 

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