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Wizards' defense clamps down in 4th to secure win over Suns

Wizards' defense clamps down in 4th to secure win over Suns

Defense has been such a point of emphasis for the Wizards early this season that even when head coach Scott Brooks is asked about their offense, he often circles back to the other end of the floor. He has said over and over that offense is not their problem, it's focus and consistency on defense, particularly late in games.

On Monday night at the Verizon Center, the Wizards' game against the Suns appeared to be heading down a familiar path. After scoring just 46 points in the first half, Phoenix exploded for 34 in the third quarter on 13-of-26 shooting, including 5-of-8 from three. 

Despite entering the game as one of the league's worst three-point shooting teams, the Suns were sinking them from all around the perimeter. Emerging star Devin Booker led the charge with 11 points in the frame, including three threes.

The same quarter saw Otto Porter go down with a right hip injury. Brooks turned to Kelly Oubre, Jr. to take his place and take Booker as his assignment.

The odds were mounted against the Wizards until the closing moments of the third quarter. Then, everything changed.

"We let them feel good about their offense…they got hot. They made shots in transition and easy shots," Brooks said. "I thought late in the third quarter, under two minutes when Marcus [Thornton] had a couple of threes that got us back going into the fourth quarter. Then we also had the two stops to back that up."

That sequence flipped the game in the Wizards' favor, particularly on defense. They clamped down and held the Suns to just 21 points in the fourth quarter. Phoenix shot just 8-of-24 in the final frame.

The Suns were held scoreless in the final 87 seconds as the Wizards secured a 106-101 victory. The final two minutes saw John Wall and Marcin Gortat make key blocks on Eric Bledsoe, both sending his layup attempts into the crowd.

"We really locked in the fourth quarter," power forward Markieff Morris said. "Down the stretch we made some good key stops and got the victory."

"Lock in. That's all it is," said shooting guard Bradley Beal, who scored a career-high 42 points. "Defense is just a want, wanting to go out there and put in the effort and the intensity. We can't control whether the ball goes in all the time, but you can control how hard you play on the defensive end. I think we all accepted the challenge that coach brought to us over the last couple days and really applied it tonight."

The fourth quarter looked like a breakthrough for the Wizards defensively, a culmination of what they have been preaching over the last few weeks while stumbling out to a slow start. But carrying success over from game to game has been easier said than done this season. The Wizards will get another chance for their first consecutive wins of the season on Friday in Orlando.

[RELATED: TAKEAWAYS FROM WIZARDS' 4TH WIN OF SEASON OVER SUNS]

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Bradley Beal's 2019-20 season another reminder we still don't know how good he can be

Bradley Beal's 2019-20 season another reminder we still don't know how good he can be

Bradley Beal's career has followed a sort of incremental, but consistent upward trajectory that has made it difficult to get an accurate read on his stature as an NBA player.

He began his career hobbled by injuries, which helped make his subsequent rise as a star fly under the radar, despite him entering the league as the No. 3 overall pick. And in each of the past five seasons, he has taken a significant leap forward in his improvement.

That has produced this effect where every time you think you have an idea of what Beal is, he proves you wrong by getting even better or by adding something to his game. That has led Beal to essentially be underrated in perpetuity. You can't properly rate him because once you do, he does something to throw your assessment of him out the window.

The 2019-20 season was yet another example. He had already established himself as a multi-time All-Star. Many probably thought that was going to be it, that he would plateau.

But then he went out and averaged 30.5 points per game, second in the NBA and first in the Eastern Conference. He did that while averaging a career-high of 6.1 assists and while carrying a 52.0 effective field goal percentage.

Beal scored with efficiency and filled up the box score. He is as well-rounded an offensive player as you will find the NBA. 

Ironically, he wasn't named an All-Star this season, yet the numbers he put up were beyond the average All-Star. He took another major step, even if the league didn't recognize him for it.

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If we have learned anything about Beal during his eight NBA seasons, it's that we should probably expect him to keep going, to keep getting better, to next year be a noticeably different player. He also has league history on his side.

Two years ago, Hoops Hype published some fascinating research on the average prime age of NBA stars. They found that the average All-NBA player was 27.7 years old. Beal just finished his Age 26 season. He turned 27 in June. That means he could just be entering his prime with his best years still ahead of him.

There are, of course, no guarantees, as Beal should realize watching his teammate John Wall the past three years. Wall also had his best statistical season at Age 26, but his Age 27, 28 and 29 seasons have been decimated by injuries. The saddest part has been the timing.

RELATED: BRADLEY BEAL OPTS OUT OF ORLANDO BUBBLE

But assuming Beal can stay healthy, as he has been able to in recent years, we now arrive at a familiar question: what actually is his ceiling? That has been a moving target for years at this point and Beal keeps making it more and more difficult to answer.

Statistically, it's hard to imagine Beal doing much more than he did this past season, aside from raising his three-point percentage from 35.3, which was down from his career mark of 38.0. But there are always more levels to reach.

Beal has been an All-Star twice now, but has yet to make All-NBA. He has also yet to enter the MVP conversation. He is still looking up at the NBA's best players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard, with a lack of team success not helping his cause.

If the Wizards became true contenders, a lot of those things would likely take care of themselves. But in absence of a major team improvement, Beal can arguably reach new heights by doing two things: taking over more games and assuming a larger role defensively.

Those two areas are also relative to team success. To take over in the fourth quarter and lead your team to victory, your team first needs to put itself in that position. Beal gets far fewer opportunities than some of his peers on better teams. But if he takes advantage of those moments when they are presented, it could have a major effect on the Wizards' record.

When it comes to defense, Beal has to sacrifice something to carry his outsized role on offense. If the Wizards were better and he had more help with scoring, maybe he would have the energy to guard the other team's best player on the other end.

The very best players in the NBA are two-way players. That goes for current times and throughout history. All the greats were also good on defense.

The truth is that it's hard to decipher what Beal can do to make another significant leap. His game is so well-rounded now that it is hard to pick apart. And, as history has shown us, it's a fool's errand trying to categorize his abilities. You know he's probably going to just raise the bar again, just like he did this season.

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Top NBA player reactions so far from inside the Orlando bubble

Top NBA player reactions so far from inside the Orlando bubble

Welcome to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando -- also known as the bubble. 

This site is currently home to 22 NBA teams who will be participating in the NBA's restart amidst the coronavirus pandemic. All teams have arrived or will arrive, in Orlando by the end of Thursday.

As players, coaches, and team employees embark on this new life inside of the bubble, it's only imminent that they'll take to social media to share the experience with the public. 

Here are the best reactions from inside the bubble so far.

Wizards forward, Admiral Schofield committed a rookie mistake by leaving his HDMI cord back at home. How else is he supposed to play Call of Duty Warzone?

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Luckily, after some undisclosed negotiations, Schofield came out on the winning side. 

Brooklyn Nets point guard Chris Chiozza and  Denver Nuggets shooting guard Troy Daniels both took fans behind the curtain of what the food accommodations were like and NBA Twitter had a field day making fun of it. 

Los Angeles Clippers point guard Patrick Beverly is looking out for any players that might've under packed for the bubble, we think. 

RELATED: MOE WAGNER TO WEAR 'VOTE' ON BACK OF JERSEY

Wizards small forward, Troy Brown Jr. has recently started streaming his PS4 gameplay, now he's teasing the possibility of a vlog series? NBA plater or YouTuber? We'll take both.

Orlando Magic shooting guard, and Davis Bertans hater, Evan Fournier gave the public a tour of the resort he and his team will be staying in during their time at home.

Nice accommodations if we're being honest.

This tweet from Wizards shooting guard Jerome Robinson may not particularly be bubble related, but he definitely poses a great question. 

Lastly, Memphis Grizzlies power forward Jaren Jackson knows the team has a good chance of making the postseason this year. With that being said, he left the fans with this simple Spongebob meme. 

The bubble, enjoy.

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