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Bradley Beal's All-Star confidence on display in gutsy performance vs. Knicks

Bradley Beal's All-Star confidence on display in gutsy performance vs. Knicks

To borrow a famous phrase from Wizards lore, you could say Bradley Beal's swag was phenomenal on Wednesday night.

Despite tired legs and an impending, well-deserved All-Star break on his mind, Beal put in a thorough performance in a win over the New York Knicks and displayed his All-Star confidence in the process, both on the court and off of it. It all started in the pregame show Wizards GameTime on NBC Sports Washington. He closed his interview with Chris Miller by saying of the last game of the first half.

"We gotta have it, so if the Blue Magic gotta come out then the Blue Magic gotta come out," Beal said, referencing one of his nicknames.

Beal proceeded to drop 36 points, with seven assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks. He shot 14-for-22 (63.6%) from the field and 4-for-7 (57.1%) from three.

RELATED: BEAL ENTERS 3-POINT CONTEST AS UNDERDOG

Beal's third quarter deserves its own highlight reel. He had 12 points in the frame to lead a Wizards effort that turned the game around. After trailing 21 at halftime, the Wizards outscored the Knicks 39-15 in the third. They put themselves in position to win after looking like blowout material for the first half of the game.

Beal's biggest impact was felt on defense where he helped limit Knicks guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. to just five points in the second half and zero in the fourth quarter. That was after Hardaway had 32 points at halftime on 10-for-12 shooting. He went 2-for-10 in the second half.

The best part is that Beal told Hardaway all of that would happen.

"I told him I was going to shut him down. He started chirping a little bit, we both started chirping," Beal said, noting he's friends with Hardaway. "I told him he wasn’t going to score for the rest of the game and he didn’t."

PODCAST: ANALYZING THE WIZARDS AT THE ALL-STAR BREAK

That's what the great ones can do when they so choose. They can tell their opponent what they plan to do, knowing that individual has no hopes in stopping it. Beal has reached that level.

Beal showed on Wednesday how he can take over a game on both ends of the floor and he did it with the All-Star break within grasp. Currently fourth in the NBA in minutes played, Beal could have taken it easy in the second half, assuming the game was out of hand, as the Wizards trailed by as much as 27 points. But he kept fighting and helped lead the Wizards to victory.

The Wizards closed the first half of the season 7-2 in their nine games since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. There have been many on the Wizards who have stepped their games up, but Beal has been the leader. In these nine games, he's averaged 21.8 points, 6.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals while shooting 45.5 percent from the field. 

Beal is now the focus of opposing defenses. He has adapted this game accordingly. His assists are up significantly because he is doing the right thing when defenses collapse. He doesn't force shots, he instead finds open teammates and defers when necessary.

Beal is consistently adding dimensions to his game and has All-Star swagger to match his All-Star numbers.

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So the Wizards have gotten back in the playoff race and here's why

So the Wizards have gotten back in the playoff race and here's why

During the Wizards' recent 10-game surge, in which they have won seven games and vaulted back into the playoff race, there have been many reasons for their near-overnight transformation. The most dramatic change between now and the previous 36 games of this season, however, may be on the defensive end.

The Wizards, for much of this season, have been dreadful on defense. They are 23rd in the league in defensive rating (111.1) and have allowed the second-most points per game (115.8) of any team. The latter has them on pace to allow more points than any Wizards or Bullets team has since 1970.

But lately, they have flipped the narrative. In their last 10 games going back to Dec. 29, the Wizards are fourth in the NBA in defensive rating (106.4). 

On Monday, they held the Pistons to only 87 points, a season-low for a Washington opponent. That included a 34-point first half for Detroit, the fewest the Wizards have given up in a half this season.

The previous season-low for points scored in one half against the Wizards was set in their last game when the Knicks scored 37 in the second half on Thursday. That means the Wizards gave up only 71 points across four quarters, the equivalent of a full game.

The Knicks and Pistons are 23rd and 25th in scoring this season, respectively, but that remains an impressive stretch for the Wizards' defense. They are locking up opponents and coming away with victories.

"Our defense, overall, has just been better," forward Jeff Green said after the 101-87 win over the Pistons. "We’ve been communicating and not allowing teams to get a lot of offensive rebounds, forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. We’ve been on the same page defensively."

Against the Pistons, the Wizards allowed only two offensive rebounds, tying the fewest they've surrendered this season. It helped the Pistons were missing Andre Drummond, but that remains no small feat for the Wizards, who give up more offensive boards (11.7/g) than any team.

Like Green, head coach Scott Brooks mentioned the rebounds after Monday's win. 

"We give ourselves a chance to win every night if we can win the rebounding game," he said.

Indeed, the Wizards are a perfect 11-0 this season when they win the rebounding margin. In games they either lose the rebounding margin or tie, they are 9-26.

As the Wizards have shown all season, rebounding is a crucial part of defense. Forcing an opponent to miss a shot is only part of the battle. The stop is completed once the defensive rebound is reeled in.

Defense and rebounding have been major problems for the Wizards this season and both deal with effort. Because of that, Brooks and his players have often lamented a lack of want-to in the Wizards' lowest moments.

Recently, the effort has been there. It probably has something to do with the desperation of losing three key players - John Wall, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard - to injuries. With what's left on their roster, they don't have the luxury of starting slow or losing focus in games. The margin for error is thin.

But the Wizards' improvement on defense can also be credited to a midseason roster makeover done by their front office. They changed the team's defensive DNA with guys like Trevor Ariza, Chasson Randle, and Sam Dekker. In these past 10 games, all three have posted defensive ratings under 105. They have infused the Wizards' rotation with a blue-collar approach to team defense.

Ariza, of course, deserves most of the credit. He has built a 15-year career off hard-nosed perimeter defense. 

This week, Brooks explained how Ariza's discipline has been integral in the Wizards' recent turnaround.

"Trevor definitely helps," Brooks said. "He's not going to get a stop every time, but he's going to give you great effort. He's not going to gamble a lot. He's not going to take the immature chances that might lead to a steal and a dunk in transition, but most likely it's not. He doesn't take those gambles."

Defense and the Wizards have not been synonymous for most of this season. But over the past 10 games, they have played with a new identity and it might be the key to saving their season.

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Rockets will finally trade Carmelo Anthony to Bulls, where they plan to cut him, per reports

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Rockets will finally trade Carmelo Anthony to Bulls, where they plan to cut him, per reports

The Houston Rockets will trade Carmelo Anthony to the Chicago Bulls, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports.

Anthony, a six-time All-NBA selection and 10-time All-Star, has not played for the Rockets since Nov. 8. Discontent between the two-sides in his first season with the team prevented Anthony from being a piece in a championship contending team. 

However, his tenure on the Bulls will be short lived. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago will move on from one of the best scorers from the 2000s. Wojnarowski also later reported that the Bulls will cut Anthony.

Upon him getting cut by the Bulls, Anthony will become a free agent (again) if he clears waivers. Chicago at 11-38 is a team that appears to be tanking for the 2019 NBA Draft and look to be moving assets to prepare for a push this summer.

Before the Rockets refusal to play Anthony, he averaged 13.4 points on 40.5 percent shooting and 32.8 percent from deep in 10 games.

If Anthony is willing to take a pay cut, another playoff team could be looking to bolster their depth.

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