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Bradley Beal ranks among the NBA's elite guards —whether anyone realizes or not

Bradley Beal ranks among the NBA's elite guards —whether anyone realizes or not

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The weekend is here. That means the chance for socializing, perhaps hanging at the local watering hole, at your kid's basketball game or with friends and family. Since you're reading a Wizards article, we'll assume you and (hopefully) those in this hypothetical social circle track the NBA.

If there's a lull in the conversation, float this topic: How many guards are at this moment definitively better than Bradley Beal?

We're not talking historically. For example, nine-time All-Star Chris Paul's career undoubtedly trumps the Wizards' leading scorer, but an inability to remain on the court because of constant injuries are now the predominant factor when gauging the 34-year-old's status.

Ignore upside. 76ers' Ben Simmons, thanks to his unique combination of size and skill may eventually turn into a true franchise-altering player who averages a triple-double over an entire season. Right now the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft isn't fully-formed considering he's yet to make a 3-pointer in his brief career or even attempt one halfway through his second season despite the league's bomb's away mentality.

The player today, right now. That's the conversation. 

Yes, the use of the word "definitively" offers a subjective wrinkle in this barroom debate. My house, my rules. If a player's name enters your headspace and rather than fast-break past a Beal comparison you pause with a hesitation dribble even for a moment, that's not definitive. 

James Harden and Stephen Curry. Even the Beal family waves those scoring savants past their uber-talented kin. 

Kyrie Irving has handles for days and hit one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history. Russell Westbrook isn't performing at his 2016-17 league Most Valuable Player level, but he remains an athletic force of nature.

That's it, that's the list. 

Perhaps Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson join the elite of the elite if I play this exercise out not shortly after witnessing Beal latest's stellar performance in Washington's 113-106 win over Milwaukee Friday night. 

Right now my take is Lillard, an absolute offensive force with ice water in his veins isn't the same kind of two-way threat as Beal. Nobody denies Thompson's role in Golden State's three NBA titles, but this hasn't been one of his better seasons. 

Kemba Walker might join Irving as a starter in the 2019 All-Star game. DeMar DeRozan's mid-range game is flourishing with the Spurs. Victor Oladipo? Mike Conley? Kyle Lowry? All studs, but not locks over Beal. 

Rookie Luka Doncic is unreal. Everyone would trade anyone on the Wizards' for him. For now, he doesn't join the "definitively" list, at least not until he participates in the pressure-packed NBA playoffs or plays in more than 40-ish games.

(Wait, what about Jimmy Butler? Ben, come on, stop this nonsense!)

Talent, yes, but until storm clouds stop following Butler stop after stop, nah. Players rally around Beal. Teammates look side-eye at Butler.

(I feel a disturbance in the force. Some of you are baffled and immediately skipping ahead to the comments section so you can lodge a complaint or are opening a new tab because such audacity requires a sharply-worded tweet. I'm @benstandig on Twitter. Say hi.)

If this thought process has anyone feeling uncomfortable, good. That's the point. Conversations need to change. 

Bradley Beal isn't just a mature human with a textbook jumper who some assume rides in the sidecar next to teammate John Wall. He needs to be recognized on another level because that's where his game is these days. 

These days means more than the eight games since Washington learned Wall would miss the remainder of the 2018-19 season because bone spurs digging into his left heel require surgery, but let's start there. 

In that stretch, Beal is sixth in the league with 28.6 points per game while averaging 4.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. Only Harden, Curry and Westbrook match those statistics among NBA guards, and none swiped 2.4 steals per game like Beal. His 3-point percentage, a bit wonky overall this season, is just under 40 percent on 8.5 attempts per game.

"Beal's a great individual player," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Friday.

This isn't just about individual talent or some hot statistical streak, though kudos for Beal's 32-5-7-3 line against the Bucks. Beal's tone-setting ways now permeate through the Wizards' actions.

Washington, 18-25 on the season, has won five of its last eight. Its moved within two games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

That includes wins this week at Oklahoma City, and home over Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Such triumphs seemed implausible throughout most of this chaotic campaign let alone a week ago. 

Washington hosts Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Sunday, its final game in the states before jumping the pond for a meeting with the New York Knicks in London. 

The deep Raptors are 2-0 against the Wizards this season. If clicking and Kawhi Leonard plays, they have too much firepower for the short-handed Wizards, logic says. The Thunder, 76ers and Bucks might disagree.

Washington is playing without Wall and Markieff Morris. It's relying on waiver claim pick-up Thomas Bryant at center, Jeff Green for 30 minutes a game, Sam Dekker and Chasson Randle for needed stints off the bench. 

"Our team is totally different from the beginning of the year," Beal said after Washington's fourth consecutive home win. "Guys are injured, guys are out. The guys that we activated, it is just getting those guys adjusted and getting adjusted to everybody’s role and how we are going to be. It is just a matter of us getting it together. I think we are finally at that point where we can turn the corner.”    

None of this was part of the plan. On paper, this shouldn't be working. 

This is why we're having the conversation about Beal and the NBA's best.

Move beyond these eight games. Beal is on pace to set career-highs in scoring (24.4), rebounding (4.8), assists (4.8) and steals (1.3). Only four other players match each of those numbers: Harden, Curry, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those aren't just players. That's a league MVP ballot.

Losing Wall took a five-time All-Star off the court. Washington is 7-4 without its point guard this season and 27-25 over the last two seasons. That's not happening without the stats and style of the player many still consider the Wizards' other All-Star guard.

When folks write down the league's best guards, Bradley Beal doesn't automatically come to mind. Those days are over. This "definitively" exercise doesn't mean Beal is the fifth or sixth best guard in the league ahead of Lillard and Thompson. He isn't automatically better than the other top 10 contenders like Oladipo and Butler, who will score mad buckets and crush souls in the weeks ahead. 

But, maybe. That's the point. 

Those who watch the Wizards game in and game out see the galvanizing force. Those that don't probably and perhaps understandably discount Beal because of Wall's presence, and for this season, the team's struggles. 

Perhaps the next time they ponder the NBA's best guards, Beal's name isn't an afterthought but a leading contender. There just aren't much better options definitively right now.

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After consecutive 40-point games, what does Bradley Beal have for an encore against the Jazz?

After consecutive 40-point games, what does Bradley Beal have for an encore against the Jazz?

Over the weekend, Bradley Beal had the best two-game stretch of his career so far with 40-point games on consecutive nights. On Monday, he has the chance to provide an encore, again in front of home fans at Capital One Arena.

This time, however, Beal and the Wizards will be facing a much tougher line of defense. He will now take his shot at the Utah Jazz (7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington), who are by many measures one of the very best defensive teams in the NBA.

Utah comes to town ranked fourth in points allowed (106.4/g) and third in defensive rating (105.8). They allow the second-fewest threes (9.9) and three-point attempts (27.9) per game.

Beal has done much of his work the past two games on the perimeter. He made seven threes against the Hornets on Friday and a career-high nine threes against the Grizzlies on Saturday.

Utah has been elite at locking down the three-point line this season. Guards Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio, and forwards Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder, can cover a lot of ground as a group.

The Utah defense, though, is anchored in the middle. Rudy Gobert, the 2017-18 defensive player of the year, is having another dominant season with 2.3 blocks per game and a career-high 12.9 rebounds. 

The Jazz will make it tough for Beal and his teammates with disciplined, physical defense in the backcourt and one of the game's best rim protectors backing them up. Monday could provide Beal one of his best challenges of the season. 

He has proven able to adapt to opposing defenses and find a way to score, whether that be by making outside shots, ones in the midrange or attacking the rim. The Jazz will likely be able to take away some combination of those avenues.

The Wizards have lost four straight games against the Jazz and Beal has struggled in their match-ups. Though he has averaged 20.8 points during that stretch, he has shot just 28 percent from three.

The Jazz may be one of the NBA's top defenses, but they have given up their fair share of big scoring games this season. Eight players have scored 40 on them in 2018-19, including Derrick Rose who dropped 50 back in October.

If Beal were to go for 40 for the third straight game, he would set a franchise record. That won't be easy to do, especially against the Jazz. But, as this weekend showed, Beal is on a different level right now.

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How to watch Wizards vs. Jazz 'Predict the Game' broadcast

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How to watch Wizards vs. Jazz 'Predict the Game' broadcast

After a huge win against the Memphis Grizzlies behind Bradley Beal's career night, the Wizards close off their homestand at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. Additionally, on NBC Sports Washington Plus you'll be able to watch an interactive, alternate live-game experience, including a free-to-play predictive gaming contest with a $500 prize, along with real-time sports-betting data and statistics. 

If the Washington Wizards (30-40) want to make the playoffs, now is the time to start winning.

The Wizards are 3.5 games back of the 8th seeded Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference, and they have just 12 games left in the regular season. Washington has won six of their last 10 games, including three of their last four games -- which have all been at home. Monday's game hosting the Utah Jazz (40-29) are on a three-game win streak and sitting in 7th place in the Western Conference.

Whether Wizards star Bradley Beal will have another 40-point game in the tank will be interesting to see, as if the Wizards will be able to contain Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

Wizards-Jazz takes place on Monday, March 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Capital One Arena and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington and NBC Sports Washington Plus. 

PREDICT THE GAME HOW TO WATCH

What is this broadcast? Predict the Game is an easy-to-enter, free contest that allows fans to predict various game and player performance outcomes through a series of approximately 30 questions that will appear on screen during the alternate telecast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. Predict the Game leaderboards will be displayed at select times, and the winner of the contest will be revealed during NBC Sports Washington’s postgame coverage.

Where can I find it? Contest questions and leaderboards will be displayed on NBC Sports Washington Plus (Channel Finder).

Additionally, the broadcast can be streamed on desktopiOS and Android devices. 

How do I win? Fans will earn points for correct predictions, with the top eligible scorer at the end of the game earning or splitting the $500 prize. 

Fans must enter Predict the Game, which is open to join throughout the entire game, and submit their predictions at www.nbcsportswashington.com/predict

WIZARDS vs. JAZZ HOW TO WATCH:

What: Washington Wizards vs. Utah Jazz
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.
When: 7:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: The Wizards vs. Jazz game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder Link).
Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards vs. Jazz on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.
Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM

WIZARDS vs. JAZZ TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders
6:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live
7:00 PM: Jazz at Wizards
9:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live 
10:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders

WIZARDS vs. JAZZ INJURY REPORT:

Wizards: Wizards: John Wall (Out, Heel), Dwight Howard (Out, Back) J

Jazz: Thabo Sefolosha (Day-to-Day, Hamstring), Dante Exum (Day-to-Day, Knee)

WIZARDS vs. JAZZ PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Wizards, Bradley Beal: In his last two games, Beal has gone off for 40 points, and is averaging 31.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game since the All-Star break.

Wizards, Jabari Parker: In the month of March, Parker is averaging 17.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

Jazz, Donovan Mitchell: Mitchell leads the Jazz with 23.6 games per season, and he is also averaging 28 points per game in March.

Jazz, Rudy Gobert: The Jazz's second-leading scorer (15.4 points per game) is averaging a team-high 12.9 rebounds per game.

WIZARDS vs. JAZZ SERIES HISTORY: 

Number of all-time Meetings: 102 (no playoffs)
Regular Season Record: Jazz lead, 54-48 

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