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How Wizards' star Bradley Beal flipped the script by asking the only question that mattered

How Wizards' star Bradley Beal flipped the script by asking the only question that mattered

One question crossed everyone’s mind inside the Washington Wizards’ crowded locker room following their 130-126 win over the Charlotte Hornets Saturday night.

Bradley Beal didn’t shy away from asking it.

“What should our expectations be this year with John out," the Wizards' leading scorer asked a handful of reporters.

John, of course, is John Wall, Beal’s backcourt partner and the long-time face of the franchise. Earlier in the evening, the team confirmed reports that the five-time All-Star point guard would undergo season-ending surgery on his troublesome left heel

Recalibrating expectations occurred immediately.

For many on the outside, the thoughts were unkind. The Wizards ended the calendar year with a disappointing 14-23 record. For a postseason berth, they must make up ground over the final 45 games without arguably their best player. 

With the medical news fresh and coming after weeks of organizational chaos, Beal sensed trepidation while waiting for a response. 

“You guys think we’re done,” he said.

Beal wasn’t confrontational, but confident and curious. The 25-year-old claimed a genuine interest in the opinions of those holding recorders. He lingered for a few moments even after a member of the team’s PR staff offered him an exit ramp.

“I think it does matter what y’all think sometimes. I mean, you guys are fans of the game,” he said.

Many celebrated Beal’s work last season when the Wizards gobbled up wins in 10 of 13 games immediately after Wall underwent a knee procedure in January. The box score numbers stood out. His mental approach and internal guidance shined brightest.

Some NBA talents are All-Star worthy. Not all are equipped to take charge. Beal, who entered the league in 2012 mature far beyond his 19 years on the planet, learned early in life he possessed those traits.

 “Leaders are born, not made,” Beal said last February in Orlando during Washington’s initial surge without Wall. “I feel like I have always been a leader ever since I was a kid. Every team I’ve been on, I’ve been a leader. Now I feel like this is what it was destined to be.”

Don’t confuse self-belief with conceit. Those in Beal’s life before NBA stardom back up his claims.

“He’s got the ‘it’ factor,” said Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan who coached Beal during the guard’s lone season at Florida. “He had at it a young age. He’s really smart. He’s bright. He’s a team guy. He’s a great worker. He knows how to impact winning. Winning is a high priority for him.”

Chasson Randle, one of the potential cult heroes on the Wizards roster, played with Beal for the gold medal-winning Team USA squad in the 2009 Under-16 World Championships.

“You could tell his greatness was on the rise,” Randle said of Beal, who led Team USA in scoring.

Last season’s shorthanded group eventually wore down without one of their two All-Star’s but kept playoff hopes alive until Wall returned late in the regular season. Their 20-21 record without their offensive engine was respectable and not far behind the eventual 43-win pace. 

Qualifying for the postseason this time remains possible in the top-heavy East. The Wizards’ remaining strength of schedule ranks 20th overall, though a brutal stretch comes soon. With Saturday’s win, Washington moved four games back of Charlotte for the seventh seed. 

Beal understands holding serve this time won’t work.

“I don’t think it will help us right now because we’re (nine) games under .500,” said a candid Beal Saturday. “We’ll need an additional (bump) to make up the games.”

However, for the front office, the focus isn’t the remaining 45 games, but the next 17. That’s the number of contests before the Feb. 7 trade deadline. At that point, if not sooner, the Wizards must determine if they should add help, stay pat, or pull the ripcord.

The real intrigue lies behind door number three. Should the inconsistencies continue or long-term planning takes hold, trading away expiring contracts or other pieces comes into play.

Punting on the season would kick off draft lottery talk. Perhaps the Wizards luck their way into one of the elite prospects including Duke’s power-packed forward Zion Williamson. That’s arguably their quickest path toward rejoining the conference title contenders.

Whatever the plan, there’s a major difference between this scenario and last season’s journey: Wall won’t rejoin the team this time.

Beal embraced additional responsibilities then and now. He’s ready for the challenge with unwavering focus.

“I’m trying to shoot for the playoffs,” Beal said with a knowing grin stretched across his face. 

The reporters never fully answered his question. It didn’t matter. His expression alone made Beal’s expectations clear even without Wall, no questions asked. 

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Taking more threes is imperative for Wizards' stalled offense as they face Bucks

Taking more threes is imperative for Wizards' stalled offense as they face Bucks

The Wizards remain winless in the NBA's restart bubble through six games now and that has left them only two opportunities to secure a victory or otherwise leave Orlando with no more wins than when they arrived. Keep in mind they haven't won an organized basketball game in five months.

The playoffs are an impossibility and it has all been about player development, anyways. But surely they would feel a lot better about themselves with at least one victory.

The big problem is their final two games are against really good teams; the Bucks and Celtics. They will start with the Bucks on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

Milwaukee will be a major challenge for the Wizards and not just because they have the best record in the East and arguably the best player in the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo. They happen to have the best defense in the NBA and the Wizards' most glaring issue in the bubble has been a lack of scoring.

It was predictable they would struggle offensively once it was revealed Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans would not be joining them in the bubble. The two are their top scorers and combine to average 45.9 points per game. But the drop-off in offense for the Wizards has been staggering.

Of the 22 teams in Orlando, the Wizards are 21st in points (105), 20th in offensive rating (102.9), 21st in field goal percentage (43.5) and 19th in three point percentage (32.3). The volume isn't there from the perimeter, either, as the Wizards rank 21st in both threes made (9/g) and attempted (27.8/g).

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They are missing nine points from their season average on three-pointers made(12). Given they are averaging 9.7 fewer points in Orlando than they do on the season as a whole, that seems noteworthy.

Thomas Bryant has been their best scorer in terms of volume and efficiency. He's averaging 18.3 points while shooting 50.3 percent from the field. Troy Brown Jr. has also been good with 16.3 points and 5.0 assists per game. And Jerome Robinson is averaging 15.5 points while shooting 37.8 percent from three.

Collectively, it hasn't been enough to replace the production missing with Beal and Bertans out. Those guys are particularly good at making threes and their removal from the lineup has deprived the Wizards' offense of space.

As good as the Bucks are defensively, though, they might present a chance for the Wizards to have a breakout game from long range. Milwaukee allows more three per game (14) than any other team.

They also give up a league-high 39.5 three point attempts per game. Teams shoot 36.5 percent on threes against them, which only ranks 14th, but is still a high clip. Beal shot 35.3 percent on threes this season, for comparison.

The Wizards should be able to take more threes against the Bucks if they want to.  If a few fall early, maybe they can ride the wave to a better offensive game. If not, it could be another long night.

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NBA draft lottery 2020 to be held virtually amid coronavirus pandemic

NBA draft lottery 2020 to be held virtually amid coronavirus pandemic

The NBA offseason arrives later this week and will speed up soon not long after with the Aug. 20 draft lottery, which will be held virtually this year.

The news it is being held virtually, which was first reported by the Athletic, was a fairly obvious expectation. All 14 teams participating will do so remotely via a video feed. That's the way many events are being held amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wizards have the ninth-best odds in this year's lottery. That gives them a 4.5 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick and a 20.2 chance to select in the top four.

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The top eight teams in the lottery are the Warriors, Cavs, Timberwolves, Hawks, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls and Hornets. The Warriors, Cavs and Timberwolves are tied for the best odds to get the No. 1 pick.

There is no consensus top player in this draft. Mock drafts have rotated through a few players at the top. The big names include James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball.

The Wizards will need some luck to move up and have a chance to get one of them.

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