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Bradley Beal goes off, but Wizards fall to Suns in tough loss

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Bradley Beal goes off, but Wizards fall to Suns in tough loss

The Washington Wizards lost to the Phoenix Suns 122-116 on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. Here is analysis of what went down...

Another tough loss: Despite the benefit of two consecutive off days while their opponent was coming off a road game the night before, the Wizards couldn't keep pace with a young Suns team that made a late push to win their fourth game in their last five. The Wizards have now lost three of four with two of those coming against teams unlikely to make the playoffs. 

The Suns would be included in that category, though their growing collection of young talent was on display Wednesday night. T.J. Warren was unstoppable with 40 points and Devin Booker had 22. The Wizards dropped to 4-3 on the season and can't get Markieff Morris back soon enough.

The Wizards blew out the Kings on Sunday and this one looked headed in that direction when Washington led 32-15 after the first quarter, but the Suns dropped 37 in the second, cut the lead to three at the end of the third and took the lead at 10:44 in the fourth. The Wizards at one point held a 22-point advantage. They have led by double digits in all three of their losses this season.

Panda went off: Bradley Beal had himself a game and it was clear early he was in for a big night. Beal erupted for 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first quarter, including a perfect 2-for-2 from three. By the end of the third quarter he had 30 points and when it was over he had 40.

Beal again used the free throw line to rack up points, something we have seen more of from him this season. He started being more aggressive attacking the rim last year, but now he's even more confident drawing contact and the refs are rewarding him with foul calls. He got to the line 11 times and dropped in 10 of them. Beyond Beal, only two other Wizards players reached double figures: John Wall (21 points, six assists) and Mike Scott (12 points).

The Dundie goes to...: Just like he did in the previous two games, Scott made an instant and noticeable impact off the Wizards' bench. He got hot immediately in the first quarter with seven points in four minutes including a sweet stepback fadeaway. He also knocked down a three. Scott scored all of his 12 points in his first 11 minutes.

The Wizards bought low on Scott, but through seven games appear to be getting a version of him much closer to the guy who was a rotation mainstay in Atlanta a few years ago. He is looking to regain his form and so far, so good. The problem, though, is that his minutes are likely to dry up and quickly with Morris coming back. Head coach Scott Brooks will have to figure out what to do with him and Jason Smith and it may be a night-to-night thing based on matchups.

Booker is a bad dude: Booker is quickly developing into one of the league's best shooting guards. He held his own against Beal and the Wizards to help his team get the win. By now everyone knows he can shoot, but he can also throw down some nasty dunks.

Check this one he finished after driving by Wall:

Porter out: The Wizards were without two starters on Wednesday night, not just Morris who was serving out his one-game suspension from Friday night's fight against the Golden State Warriors. Otto Porter was also out due to a stomach virus. He was nowhere to be seen pregame or on the bench, meaning the Wizards are quarantining him to make sure whatever he has doesn't spread around the locker room. They obviously want to avoid that.

Up next: The Wizards are off Thursday before hosting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. The game isn't on NBC Sports Washington, but we will have you covered with pregame shows starting at 6 p.m.

[RELATED: WHY THE WIZARDS DECLINED MCCULLOUGH'S OPTION]

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Wizards' 2018-19 storyline No. 3: Where do the Wizards fit in the new-look East?

Wizards' 2018-19 storyline No. 3: Where do the Wizards fit in the new-look East?

With Wizards training camp set to begin next week, we at NBC Sports Washington are counting down the five biggest storylines for the team as they start a new season. Today, at No. 3, a look at the remodeled Eastern Conference and where the Wizards fit… 

The transformation of the NBA's Eastern Conference this summer was not unlike the end and beginning of a new era in presidential politics. LeBron James, who reigned over the conference for nearly a decade, is gone. His eight-year term of Finals appearances out of the East is complete. Now a wide range of candidates are lining up to be the next power-players and it's a crowded field.

Seizing the empty throne

James' departure has had a massive effect on teams in the East, whether they ran into his Cavs or Heat in the playoffs repeatedly over the years or were affected by his presence indirectly. James going West paves the way for a new East representative in the NBA Finals and that allows everyone to dream a little bigger.

Though the Wizards never faced James in the playoffs during his streak of eight straight NBA Finals appearances, Washington players themselves have remarked about the opportunity created in wake of James leaving. They, along with the Celtics, Sixers, Raptors and other perennial playoff teams in the East, are gunning to pick up where James and Cleveland left off.

That arms race included significant changes for the Wizards this summer. They shook up their starting lineup by trading Marcin Gortat and signing Dwight Howard to a two-year contract. They brought in veterans like Austin Rivers and Jeff Green to shore up depth on their bench. They also kept their draft picks for the first time since 2015, using the first round selection to take Troy Brown, Jr. of Oregon.

Though questions remain about how it will all be put together, the Wizards appear to have improved themselves year-over-year. As long as John Wall is healthier than he was last season when he missed 41 games, it's logical to expect them to be back in the mix as contenders in the East. Exactly how high they are capable of going, however, is a big question entering this season.

Continuous growth

That's because despite James leaving, the East has grown deeper at the top in recent years. The Celtics have made the Eastern Conference Finals in two straight seasons and last year finished one win away from the NBA Finals. They did that without Gordon Hayward, who was lost for the season on opening night, and Kyrie Irving, who missed the playoffs due to injury.

The Celtics were good enough to win 55 games last season and without their two of their best and most accomplished players. If they are healthy and guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continue to develop, the Celtics deserve their status as favorites in the East.

The Raptors disappointed in the playoffs this past spring by getting swept by James and the Cavs in the second round. But they still won 59 games during the regular season and should be able to maintain their success with Kawhi Leonard now in DeMar DeRozan's place.

Toronto will ultimately be judged by what they do in the playoffs and they have plenty to prove, but no one should underestimate their ability to take care of business during the regular season. The Raptors have won at least 48 games in each of the past five years and 50 or more in the last three.

The Sixers had by any measure a dreadful offseason, first with the firing of their general manager and then with a fruitless free agent period, followed by an injury to first round pick Zhaire Smith. But Philadelphia didn't really have to add much to their roster to remain in the East's elite.

The Sixers already won 52 games last season and boast two of the best young players in the NBA in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. If they, along with Markelle Fultz, can stay healthy and continue developing, the Sixers will only rise from here.

Most would probably put the Wizards in that next tier, after the trio of Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia at the top, in terms of expected playoff seeding. But they should enter the season hopeful they can supplant one of those teams because they have the talent to do so.

By any means

One problem is that history shows the Wizards have struggled to make that leap. To get there, they would probably have to win 50 games or more and they haven't done that since the 1978-79 season. They also haven't been higher than a four-seed in the playoffs since that year.

The Wizards have been the No. 4 seed as recently as 2016-17, and that comes with the nice bonus of home court advantage in the first round. But to go higher than four, they will need to demonstrate a level of consistency not seen for their franchise in almost 40 years.

Before the Wizards set their sights on the top teams in the East, they will need to separate themselves from the others who are in a similar position. Just like the Wizards, teams like the Pacers, the Bucks and Heat have dreams of a breakout year.

The Wizards definitely have the roster talent to finish ahead of that pack. Washington has two All-Stars, something those teams can't boast. But all three of those teams had better records than the Wizards did last season and Indiana and Milwaukee have All-NBA players. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in particular, is good enough to change the landscape in the East on his own, if he makes the MVP leap many have been waiting for.

In order for the Wizards to emerge from the middle of the conference and become Finals contenders, health will of course be key. They will also need to get re-establish a homecourt advantage and find a way to capitalize against lesser teams. Last season, the Wizards had the fewest home wins and victories against below-.500 opponents of any playoff team.

With James out of the picture, the Eastern Conference appears more open than it has been in years. The Wizards eye an opportunity for themselves, but they aren't alone.

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John Wall joins Stephen Curry and Chris Paul in raising money for Hurricane Florence relief efforts

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John Wall joins Stephen Curry and Chris Paul in raising money for Hurricane Florence relief efforts

Three of the NBA's best North Carolina-raised stars are teaming up to help relief efforts back home following the devastation of Hurricane Florence.

Wizards guard John Wall has collaborated with Warriors guard Stephen Curry and Rockets guard Chris Paul to field donations through social media in an initiative aptly called 'Assist for Hurricane Florence.' 

The trio has joined forces on Twitter and Instagram to get the donation link out there:

Wall, who is originally from Raleigh, also did his part to warn residents before the storm hit land to prepare for its impact.

As with other big storms, the rebuild of communities affected by Hurricane Florence will likely take years. As of Friday morning, the three All-Star guards had raised over $50,000.

Unfortunately, the hometowns and states of Wizards players have been rattled by hurricanes in recent offseasons. Last summer, they had three players from Houston, Texas who were affected by Hurricane Harvey. 

Then-Wizards guard Sheldon Mac was in Houston when the hurricane hit and was staying in a neighborhood that flooded. Wall and teammate Bradley Beal organized fundraising for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts as well.

To donate to the organization Wall, Curry and Paul are promoting, click here.

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