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Morning tip: 'Playoff' Bradley Beal born in Wizards' last series vs. Hawks

Morning tip: 'Playoff' Bradley Beal born in Wizards' last series vs. Hawks

The genesis of Bradley Beal's $128 million max contract, signed last summer, was May 5, 2015. That was Game 1 of the  Wizards' semifinal series with the Atlanta Hawks, who'll be their first-round playoff opponent starting Sunday.

This time, the Wizards are the higher seed. Then, the Hawks were the top seed in the East and pushed to the brink as Beal filled the void when John Wall went out with five non-displaced fractures in his left hand and wrist.

Coach Scott Brooks rested Beal in the regular-season finale at the Miami Heat, so his last appearance came with 33 points in closing down The Palace of Auburn Hills. He displayed every weapon in his arsenal in beating the Detroit Pistons, from three-point shooting to breaking his man down off the dribble and finishing through traffic at the rim. Beal's havoc opened space for Markieff Morris to knock down clutch shots from three-point and mid-range too. 

It was playoff Beal, who also has been Washington's most consistent perimeter defender. 

“That’s what good players create ... helping our team score without scoring," Brooks said. "Brad has the ability to draw attention off his cuts, off his pindowns and I thought this season he’s really improved in that and it’s only going to get better.”

In those three games missed by Wall, before he returned for Games 5 and 6 vs the Hawks in that series, Beal averaged 23.6 points, 6.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds. He also gave Kyle Korver, who was the engine that made the Hawks' motion offense go, absolute fits. 

MORE WIZ-HAWKS: Looking back at the last time the Wizards and Hawks meet in the NBA Playoffs

Marked mostly by Beal, Korver was held to 7.0 points per game and just 12-for-42 three-point shooting, or 28.5%. Korver had led the league by shooting 49.2% on the long ball in the regular season.

The Wizards were convinced that Beal was a max player and the only question was his ability to stay healthy after so many stops and starts in his first four seasons. This was the first time, however, that he didn't have a stress reaction in his lower right leg. 

The medical staff and methodolgy were revamped to better deal with injury issues for all of the players and other than an early-season thigh strain that cost Beal three games and a rolled ankle that kept him out for one game, he was able to stay on the court. Brooks made significant changes to cut the length of practices which helped prevent overuse injuries such as stress reactions, a precursor to a fracture in the bone.

The results: Beal set career-highs across the board with 77 of 82 games played, 23.1 points, 48.2% field-goal shooting, 3.5 assists and 82.5% free-throw shooting. And he did it while still shooting better than 40% from three-point range. 

Beal's overall shooting accuracy is 34th in the NBA, and just second-best among shooting guards. Gary Harris of the Denver Nuggets, who attempted six fewer shots per game than Beal (11), is No. 1 at the position at 50.2%. 

Korver is long gone from Atlanta, but they have a host of three-point shooters who will command Beal's attention on the defensive end such as Tim Hardaway and Mike Dunleavy. 

If Beal could solve Korver, who played on a better team that also had Al Horford, he should be able to figure out this group. 

RELATED: What the Wizards will need to beat the Hawks

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Wizards vs. Heat: TV channel, Time, Live stream, how to watch

Wizards vs. Heat: TV channel, Time, Live stream, how to watch

The Wizards snapped a three-game losing streak with a nice win over the Pistons on Martin Luther King Day. 

They won't be able to celebrate for long though as they hit the road to play an extremely good Miami Heat team just a couple of weeks after the Wizards beat them without Bradley Beal. 

Can Washington shock everyone once again and continue to play their best against great teams? Here's what you need to know to watch and find out. 

WIZARDS vs. HEAT HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Wizards vs. Miami, Game 43

Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami FL

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Wizards vs. Heat will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards vs. Heat on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM

WIZARDS vs. HEAT TV SCHEDULE

6:30 PM: Wizards Outsiders

7:00 PM: Wizards Pregame Live 

7:30 PM: Wizards vs. Heat

10:00 PM: Wizards Postgame Live 

10:30 PM: D.C. Sports Live 

11:00 PM: Wizards Talk 

WIZARDS vs. HEAT INJURY REPORT:

Wizards: Rui Hachimura (OUT, groin), Garrison Mathews (OUT, ankle), Moe Wagner (OUT, ankle),  John Wall (OUT, Achilles)

Heat: Jimmy Butler (Day-to-day, hip), Justise Winslow (OUT, back)

 

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Why Wizards point guard Ish Smith purposefully never dunks in games

Why Wizards point guard Ish Smith purposefully never dunks in games

WASHINGTON -- Go to a Washington Wizards game these days and you may see point guard Ish Smith do many things. He has a mean crossover, is shooting threes like never before in his career and he's a blur up and down the court.

What you will basically never see Smith do is dunk. He hasn't thrown one down in a game since the 2017-18 season. He dunked twice that year, down from four times the season before and down from his career-high of eight the year before that.

Smith has basically eliminated dunking from his game. It's not that he can't, he just chooses not to. And it's for a good reason.

Now in his 10th NBA season, Smith believes the wear-and-tear that comes with dunking isn't worth it at this point.

"I'm saving my legs," he told NBC Sports Washington. "I was watching something and Steve Nash was talking about how he played when he got older - on the ground, pretty much on land. He was preserving his energy because he moved a lot, cut a lot [with] ball-handling and different things like that. I try to preserve all that."

Smith, 31, has achieved a rare level of longevity in the NBA. He went undrafted in 2010, yet has lasted a decade in the NBA as a 6-foot tall point guard. The Wizards are his 11th team, one off the NBA record.

There is an old adage in the NBA that each dunk takes a game off your career. Many things can happen when players are high up in the air and risking contact, but also the simple act of jumping and landing can take its toll on joints and ligaments.

Smith has carved out the career he has by making sacrifices, and that includes dunking. Even when he is alone on a fastbreak, he will just lay it in.

"Yeah, you get breakout layups and stuff like that," he said. "I guess because I have done it, but it's not as tempting as used to be. It's just like get these two points and get back."

When he was younger, Smith would dunk when he had the opportunity. Now he says he's kind of over it.

"I had some dunk-ons [back in the day]. But as I got older, I realized it ain't all that," he said.

Smith now prides himself on a wide array of release angles on layups around the rim. He can finish with his right and left hand, in traffic and off-balance. He can double-clutch and use the glass.

Smith has a way of sneaking under bigger defensive players and timing layups to avoid blocked shots. It's a big part of his game.

But maybe someday soon we will see Smith dunk again in a game. Perhaps he will do so, just to show everyone he's still got it.

"[I dunked] the other day when we were in Toronto, after practice," he said. "After that, I was like 'oh no, I don't know why I did that.'"

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