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Bradley Beal's fourth-quarter takeover key in Wizards win over Knicks

Bradley Beal's fourth-quarter takeover key in Wizards win over Knicks

NEW YORK – Some leftover thoughts from the Wizards’ 110-107 win against the Knicks Monday night and beyond…

Beal ball

When the Wizards maintain possession in the final minute of a quarter, especially a tight fourth, we know what’s coming if John Wall is on the court. The point guard takes his time surveying the opposing defense while dribbling above the 3-point arc, spots a potential weak area and attacks.

Sometimes that means a penetrating drive into the lane or feeding a teammate. Perhaps settling for a mid-range jumper above the free throw line. Whatever the choice or outcome, the ball is with Wall.

Except it wasn’t Monday night.

The Wizards held a 15-point lead with 3:33 remaining and began playing like a team with a 15-point lead deep into a game. They racked up empty possessions including two brutal turnovers and a missed 14-footer from Wall. New York scored 10 consecutive points including two free throws with 1:02 remaining.

When the Wizards next took over on offense, the ball was with Bradley Beal.

On Washington’s final two possessions, he created space for others and twice passed to open 3-point shooters. Markieff Morris missed the first try, after which the Knicks capped a 12-0 run to pull within three.

On the next trip, Beal penetrated inside the arc and went with a behind-the-back dribble that sent Knicks forward Noah Vonleh to the ground. He rose for a jumper as the shot clock ticked less than five seconds. With a defender contesting, Beal, essentially without looking, kicked the ball to Wall camped out above the arc. Wall splashed the shot and sealed the win.

“Just be aggressive, score and attack first,” said Beal, explaining his mindset to NBC Sports Washington on those final possessions. “Once I saw the defense close in, it was just the right thing to do, make the right play.”

He added, “If I feel like I can’t do it, I trust my teammates to make the right play after me.”

Beal is Washington’s best two-way threat in those spots because of his shooting touch, though he cannot compete with Wall’s speed, passing and ball handling. The shooting guard is more comfortable off the ball, but his dribble-drive game is much improved over the last two seasons. That’s at least in terms of creating for himself.

What Beal lacks as a natural facilitator he makes up for with strong hoops instincts. In the moment, that wasn’t the only factor as Brooks called plays from the sideline.

“They’re both good decision makers,” the head coach said of Wall and Beal. “I thought those last three minutes – obviously I have to watch the film – but we were loose. Not saying we thought the game was over, but we kind of relaxed. When you relax you give guys opportunities. We turned it over like careless. Like high school, not even high school. It was basically just giving the ball (away), making the game interesting more than it needed to be.”

Wall had his left ankle in a bucket of ice after the win. That’s the same ankle he said was stepped on after the Nov. 24 win over New Orleans. Wall cooled off the Knicks with 18 points, 15 assists and that dagger of a 3-pointer.

Manning the middle

Overlooked in the third quarter surge, the play of Thomas Bryant.

The Knicks could keep a true center on the court at all times if they desired with Enes Kanter and Mitchell Robinson. Good things happened in the first half when they did as New York led 61-52. Kanter, one of the league’s top rebounders, had 11 before halftime. The 7-foot-1 Robinson, a modern-day center capable of defending perimeter players on switches, had two blocks during the first two quarters.

Neither was the best center on the court in the third.

Bryant outrebounded Kanter 4-3 in the period, grabbing two offensive rebounds. He made all three of his field goal attempts. The new-ish starting center also played a key role on Washington’s defensive effort as New York scored only five points in the opening seven minutes of the quarter. Scott Brooks said improved footwork from the Wizards’ big men held them back in the first half.

“TB did a good job of coming in and rectifying that with good ball pressure with our guards, and he helped out,” Brooks said.  We want four hands on the basketball and I thought it was especially that in that third quarter.”
Coincidence or not, the Wizards are 5-3 since Bryant replaced the injured Dwight Howard in the starting lineup.

Small-sample-size Theater

In the two games with Tomas Satoransky in the starting lineup, the Wizards’ opening five have a net rating of 25.1. The breakdown, 107.5 offense (points per 100 possessions), 82.4 defense. On the season, only one five-man lineup in the league has a net rating of plus 25 or better (min. 100 minutes). Ironically, that’s a Clippers lineup that includes ex-Wizard Marcin Gortat along with Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Avery Bradley, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The better comparison involves the Wizards just before inserting Satoransky with the starters over Kelly Oubre Jr., who had started the previous six games. Of those six, five included the other usual starters; Otto Porter missed the Nov. 30 game at Philadelphia. Washington’s net rating in those five games, -17.2.

Oubre Jr. sizzled from the field against the Knicks, sinking 8 of 11 shots overall including 5 of 6 from 3-pointers. In the postgame locker room, Oubre was cooling down his right elbow, which the small forward said he hyper-extended slightly.  

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Mystics' Kristi Toliver named WNBA All-Star reserve for a second straight year

Mystics' Kristi Toliver named WNBA All-Star reserve for a second straight year

Washington Mystics guard Kristi Toliver is a WNBA All-Star once again. 

Toliver was named an All-Star reserve on Monday as selected by the league's coaches. She joins Elena Delle Donne, who was named a captain of one of the two teams, and head coach Mike Thibault as representatives from the Mystics. 

This selection gives Toliver, 5-7, the third honor of her career and the second with Washington. Last year en route to the franchise's first WNBA Finals appearance Toliver was named an All-Star. She also got the nod in 2013 when she played with the Los Angeles Sparks. 

Through 15 games, Toliver is averaging 12.1 points and is second in the league with 5.7 assists per game, which is also on pace for a career-high.

She is shooting at a career-best .497 clip and is looking as explosive as ever at 32-years-old. With her and Delle Donne, the Mystics are 9-6 and second in the Eastern Conference.

In the offseason, Toliver is also an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards. Often she worked on the player development side of the staff and closely with Bradley Beal. 

Delle Donne will have the first choice of selection in the All-Star game draft. As a reserve, Toliver cannot be selected until after the starters are chosen. 

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Mark Jackson thinks Wizards should retool like the Clippers, not tank or trade Bradley Beal

Mark Jackson thinks Wizards should retool like the Clippers, not tank or trade Bradley Beal

The Washington Wizards have flipped their roster this offseason, to the point where they are one or two moves away from what could be considered a significant rebuild. Those two moves would be trading Bradley Beal and John Wall.

The team has no plans to do the former and probably can't do the latter due to Wall's injury and contract. But the point at which they arrived has sparked some debate about whether the Wizards should go all in and blow it up completely.

Count ESPN's Mark Jackson among those who believes the Wizards should not completely tank. The NBA Finals broadaster and longtime star point guard thinks there is a model to follow that equals a reset but also keeps Beal, in particular, in the mix.

"The Clippers," Jackson said. "They didn't tear it down, but competed until the point where they added pieces to where it gave them a real chance. I think that's the avenue to take."

The Clippers have dominated headlines recently after signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George, a pair of moves that have installed them as title contenders. But Jackson was speaking more about the steps they took the previous year. They traded off many of their pieces, but did not fully rebuild. And they did it all while keeping their veteran head coach.

"They didn't sell all the way out. They were relevant and competed and they gained valuable experience as they got to the point where they are a championship contender," Jackson said.

"You lose Blake Griffin, you lose DeAndre Jordan and you lose Chris Paul; everybody says that's a teardown, but they defended, they competed at a high level and they were pros. They were high character guys. Good things happened until now where they have a real chance to win it all."

The Clippers took a step back when they traded Paul before the 2017-18 season, but not a major step back. They went from 51 to 42 wins. After trading Griffin and letting Jordan go in free agency, they took a step forward and improved to 48 wins this past season.

L.A. maintained a winning culture while shifting gears. It is worth noting the two biggest winners in 2019 free agency - them and the Brooklyn Nets - were not tanking teams starting from scratch.

There are plenty of differences between where the Wizards are now and where the Clippers were when they began their reset, of course. L.A. had more talent to deal from and got more back in some of the trades they made. 

They got a lot for Griffin and then Tobias Harris when they traded him to the Sixers. The Wizards have little to show for the deals they made involving Otto Porter Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr. and Markieff Morris. There is also the obstacle of Wall's injury and contract, which complicates things further.

But, as Jackson notes, the Wizards are on a different playing field. They don't have to compete in the gauntlet that is the Western Conference.

"The fortunate thing for them is that they're in the Eastern Conference. They have a home run hitter in Bradley Beal who is finally getting the recognition he deserves," he said.

"Ultimately, it's about getting John back healthy and allowing these young players to grown and develop and continue to add pieces that can play a role. I think the future is bright for them."

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