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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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Raptors GM Masai Ujiri on staying in Toronto: 'In my mind, I'm here'

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri on staying in Toronto: 'In my mind, I'm here'

Just a few weeks ago, the Masai Ujiri-to-D.C. movement was gaining steam quickly. Just moments after Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors began celebrating their NBA Championship, reports began to swirl that the Wizards were prepared to aggressively pursue the GM.

Sources told NBC Sports Washington that there could be the possibility of a sort of mega-deal that went beyond just giving him control of the Wizards. But Wizards owner Ted  Leonsis denied earlier this month that the team had reached out, saying that "we have never planned in any way to ask for permission to speak to him during our process."

And on Tuesday, Uriji seemed to make it official that he will stay in Toronto.

"I love it here, my family loves it here. My wife loves it here, which is very important. My kids are Canadians. You want to win more, for me," Ujiri said on Tuesday during his end-of-season press conference.

"Yeah, I can continue to address teams wanting me and all those things. That's a blessing in life," Ujiri said. "For me the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy, and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person. This place has made me grow as a person."

"I identify with this place and I love it. So in my mind, I'm here."

On paper, Ujiri and the Wizards looked to be a good match. Washington could offer him money and control, while also allowing him to work with his "Basketball without Borders" program in D.C.

As NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh explained recently, the Raptors late-season championship run could have messed up the timing and situation that could have lured Ujiri to a new team.

The Wizards made it through the NBA Draft without a new GM, but as July and free agency approach, the search may continue to ramp up.

The answer is still out there, it just may not be Masai Ujiri anymore.

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Bradley Beal on Wizards draftee Rui Hachimura: 'He's a monster'

Bradley Beal on Wizards draftee Rui Hachimura: 'He's a monster'

The Wizards added two pieces during the 2019 NBA Draft that franchise expects to be vital pieces of their future in Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura at No. 9 and Tennessee's Admiral Schofield at No. 42

Before Monday night's 2018-19 NBA Awards ceremony, NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller caught up with the two faces of the franchise, Bradley Beal and John Wall, to see what they thought of the new additions to the squad.

Beal had high praise for Hachimura.

"I didn't know much," Beal said on what he knew about the Gonzaga product prior to the draft. "But from what I've seen watching the draft and things I've seen pre-draft and things like that, he's a monster."

The praise did not stop there. 

"He plays hard, extremely hard," Beal said. "Hopefully, he can have an impact right away." 

While an immediate impact would be beneficial for a Wizards team that could use Hachimura's scoring (he averaged 19.7 points per game at Gonzaga), Beal understands that Hachimura is still a very raw player. After all, he's only been playing basketball for eight years.

"But at the same time, we want him to grow," Beal said on Hachimura. "We know he hasn't been playing too long. But that's something we can build off of and mold him into the player we need him to be. He has tremendous upside, and I'm excited to get going. Hopefully, come September, October he's ready to go."

While Beal may not have known too much about Hachimura, he had followed the other Wizards draft pick, Admiral Schofield, for quite some time. 

"I love his game; I loved him in college," Beal said on Schofield. 

Beal joked about Schofield's body type, wondering whether basketball is the sport the Wizards second-round pick should be playing.

"He's got a football body. He's built like a tight end, wide receiver," Beal said. "I'm definitely happy that we have him, a fellow SEC guy. Him and [Jordan] McRae are going to hit it off. He can shoot, he's athletic, so I'm definitely excited to have him as well."

While Wall did not go into as much detail as Beal about the Wizards draft class, he was just as excited about the two new additions.

"I think it's good," Wall said. "We added some pieces [in the draft], [we'll] see what we do in free agency to add some guys to bring back or we're going to go after somebody new. I think we'll be fine."

According to head coach Scott Brooks, both Beal and Wall can identify talent very well

"The thing I love about John and Brad: they love the game," Brooks said last week. "You can call them up, there could be high school players, WNBA players, it could be college players, it could be European players, they know them."

"It's like, 'don't you guys have a life?'" Brooks joked.

Wall spent most of his time with NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller discussing his Achilles rehab, where he revealed he is going to begin jogging soon. That's a good sign for the Wizards, even though Wall s expected to miss the majority of the 2019-2020 season.

In Hachimura and Schofield, the Wizards got two pieces that are not expected to contribute right away, but also potentially have the ability to do so. Earning high praise from the two most important players on the Wizards' roster is a good start for both of the Wizards 2019 NBA Draft selections. 

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