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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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Beal makes his case in win over Cavs

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Beal makes his case in win over Cavs

The Washington Wizards beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-112 on Thursday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. Just before tip-off, the NBA announced it's 2019-20 All-Star starters and not included in the Eastern Conference backcourt was Bradley Beal. Boston's Kemba Walker and Atlanta's Trae Young instead got the honors.

Whether Beal knew that fact when he took the floor or not, he put in a performance against the Cavs that should add to his case for being a reserve. The two-time All-Star followed up a 38-point gem against the Heat with 36 points against Cleveland just one night later. He also had eight assists and shot 15-for-22 (68.2%) from the field and 4-for-8 from three.

Beal now has the fourth-most 30-point games in the NBA since the start of last season with 40 of them. Only James Harden (86) Gianiis (54) and Damian Lillard (45) have more.

This 30-point game helped the Wizards bounce back from a loss the night before in Miami. Washington is now 15-29 on the season and 5-5 in their last 10 games.

2. In his previous six games since returning from a quad injury, Davis Bertans had put up some solid numbers and shown flashes. Against the Cavs, though, he did what we saw him to much more often a few months ago when he was healthy.

Bertans not only lit a spark off the bench, but he did so in microwave fashion. He had 14 of his 17 points in the first half, including three consecutive threes in the second quarter to force a timeout as the Wizards' lead grew to 14. That marked a big turnaround after Washington trailed by as many as 12 in the first quarter.

Bertans helped lead a monster effort from the Wizards' bench as a whole. They outscored the Cavs' second unit, 59-34. The Wizards are second in the NBA in bench scoring and that is despite all of the injuries they have dealt with in recent months. Now that they are nearly whole, the bench is becoming even stronger.

 

3. The Thomas Bryant situation is getting more interesting as each game passes. He has now been back six games and has been kept between roughly between 12 and 21 minutes a night. He played 17 minutes against the Cavs and contributed nine points and three rebounds.

Bryant is a big man coming off a foot injury, so the Wizards have incentive to play it safe and maintain a minutes restriction. But it has now been nearly two weeks since he came back.

Is it as simple as a minutes limit or is Ian Mahinmi's improved play having a domino effect on Bryant? The more Bryant plays limited minutes, the more that could become evident, if this is indeed performance based. 

Mahinmi, by the way, had seven points, seven rebounds and played strong defense, helping the Wizards to hold Tristan Thompson to six points and three rebounds.

4. Much like last week when the Wizards saw the Pistons and Andre Drummond, watching this game was reminder that Kevin Love is reportedly available in trades. That begs the natural question of where he would fit, if he gets dealt soon, like before the Feb. 6 deadline.

Some might argue the Wizards as an option, given their best players are guards and Love would technically complement them well. Given his age and contract, however, it would probably be too much of a risk for the Wizards.

The Blazers seem like they could use him and the Raptors could also be interesting. He would also fit well with the Rockets, though they probably don't have enough trade assets to get him.

What about the Timberwolves? They have disappointed this year and need to find Karl-Anthony Towns some help. Love wouldn't be joining a contender, as he probably hopes to, but it could be an interesting story if he goes back to the team he started with. And him and Towns would be a tough duo to stop given how well they rebound and stretch the floor.

Speaking of Love, he had the viral moment of the night when he pretended to resuscitate Beal. 

5. Backup center Anzejs Pasecniks was back in the mix after missing two games due to a left ankle injury. And not only was he available, he actually got some burn.

Pasecniks played 15 minutes and scored four points to go along with three rebounds. So, even with Bryant and Bertans back from injury, and Johnathan Williams III still getting minutes, Pasecniks maintains a role in the rotation.

That could change once other players come back. Moe Wagner, in particular, will probably take minutes away from him at the backup center spot. But Pasecniks still hanging around in the rotation is a testament to him and the way he has played. No one predicted he would play this much of a factor this season.

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Bradley Beal among elite company with 40th 30-point game over last two seasons

Bradley Beal among elite company with 40th 30-point game over last two seasons

Bradley Beal secured his 40th three-point outing since the start of last season Thursday night with an efficient 36 points on 15-of-22 shooting. He surpassed Paul George for the fourth-most 30-point games over the last two seasons and now trails only Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. 

The Wizards have not been a good team over the last two seasons, but for Beal to be in the company of two MVP's shows just how much he's grown as the leader of this team. 

The updated leaderboard for this elite scoring class now goes as follows:

Harden: 86
Antetokounmpo: 54
Lillard: 45
Beal: 40

Beal has tallied 15 30-point games this season while no other Wizard has more than one. He's well on pace to get more than 25, which was last season's total, and he's doing it on inferior shooting numbers.

 

Beal's shooting percentage (45.2 percent) is his worst mark since 2015-16, and he's never shot below 35 percent from three, let alone the 31.6 percent clip he has now. 

He's certainly had more opportunity to play with the ball in his hands given all the time John Wall has missed over the last two seasons, but it takes a special type of offensive player to score 30 points as many times as the likes of Lillard, Harden and Antetokounmpo. 

It'll be difficult to catch Harden and Antetokounmpo since they're on a different level as scorers. If Beal can stay hot through a light schedule right before the All-Star break, there's no reason to think he can't pass Lillard on this list. 

That's assuming Lillard doesn't score 30 over the next two weeks, which most likely won't happen. 

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