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.
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.
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."