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Terps, Hoyas, and Wizards

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The Washington Wizards, with the help of a furious rally starting in the third quarter and stretching into the fourth, were able to make the Atlanta Hawks nervous last night after falling behind by 18 before ultimately falling to their division rival 104-95. Washington cut the Hawks lead to 84-82 before Atlanta finished the game on a 20-13 run ending any hope of another Wizards comeback. Kevin Seraphin and Bradley Beal led Washington on offense with 19 and 18 points respectively. Beal was the only starter to crack double digits as the other four Wizards starters (AJ Price, Chris Singleton, Martell Webster and Emeka Okafor) could only muster 20 combined points on the evening going a combined 10-23 from the floor and 1-2 from the foul line.

Washington simply did not put a full 48 minutes together on the road in Atlanta like they did at the friendly confines of the Verizon Center earlier in the week against Miami. While the comeback is admirable this team simply does not have the level of talent to constantly dig themselves out of double digit holes. It feels like a broken record when I say it but the story remains the same in a majority of these losses. Until this team can put a full 48 minutes together and compete on at an NBA level these results will continue. Quite frankly, even whenever this team finally gets back to full health it would still be rough to continue playing this way night in and night out and expect to compete for victories.

The Hawks absolutely blitzed Washington last night as all five of the Hawks starters scored in double digits led by Josh Smith and his 23 points and 15 rebounds. Al Horford made his presence felt as well as he notched another double double finishing the game with 14 points and 14 rebounds on 7-11 from the field. Washington had no answer for these two players last night and when you let them go off and allow all three of their starting guards to score at least 15 points like the Wizards did last night you really stand no chance.

It was an0ther rough road lesson for a team still searching for their first taste of victory away from home. The only saving grace is that there is no time for the Wizards to think about this loss as they find themselves right back at it this evening against the Golden State Warriors in D.C.

The Teams: Golden State Warriors (12-7) vs. Washington Wizards (2-14)

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Place: Verizon Center (Washington D.C.)

TV/Radio: Comcast Sportsnet DC/106.7 The Fan DC

Why You Should Watch:

Stephen Curry might put on a shooting display. The Warriors come to the Nation’s capital having won nine out of their last twelve games as Curry and David Lee have been leading the way for the Warriors for the most part. Andrew Bogut continues to struggle to get healthy making the Monta Ellis trade from last season look more and more questionable with every game Bogut misses which certainly wasnt the plan when the Warriors made that trade last year. On the season Golden State is 6-4 on the road and are coming off of back to back wins on the road over Detroit and Brooklyn respectively.

Why The Wizards Can Win:

This game is being played at home. So far, and especially of late, the Wizards have shown they are playing much better basketball at home than they are on the road. This isnt overly surprising as most teams do better playing in their own arena than when they have to travel throughout the country. Golden State is in the middle of their longest road trip of the season and could be primed to be picked off by a team they could potentially be taking lightly. Should the Wizards be able to slow down the Warriors duo of Curry and Lee then they should be in this game at the end with a chance to get their third win at home in as many tries.

Pick:

I think both teams will come out sluggish as both played in different cities last night. As the game bores on look for Bradley Beal to build off of last nights 18 point effort and for Kevin Seraphin to continue to be the Wizards best offensive big man as Washington takes the game at home over the streaking Warriors.

Washington: 94

Golden State: 89

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When noteworthy events happen in the land of the Washington Wizards we like to break down our opinions in a feature we call the “Pick and Pop”. Ending a 12 game losing streak to open the season and winning your first game in over 200 days seemed like as good a reason as ever to polish the old P&P off to share with you all today.

1) Thoughts on finally winning a game?

Willis: Celebrate good times, come on? How am I supposed to feel about winning one game in twelve? I’m a smorgasbord of emotion, mostly because we won a game in which no one played particularly well against a sub .500 team for the first time this season. We turned the ball over way too much (16), lost the rebounding battle (45-42), shot 15 fewer shots (86-71). The difference was literally that we made one more shot. If it weren’t for Jordan Crawford and the Trail Blazers missing nearly every shot they took, this is more than likely a loss.

But again, I’ll take it, because an ugly win is still a win. Kevin Seraphin got himself a double-double, and Damian Lillard was held in check by A.J. Price (who had himself another bad shooting night). I have a hard time being upset with the effort level, although blowing that 16 point lead shows clearly that we still have to work on some things.

Bohlin: IT HAPPENED!!!  WE DID IT!!! Last night’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers was much needed for this franchise and its fan base. In typical Wizards fashion, this win did not come easy as Washington nearly choked away a double digit lead in the fourth quarter as they finished the game just one for their last eleven from the field.

That one shot was massive though. Jordan Crawford’s three pointer late in the fourth quarter and some timely free throw shooting by Emeka Okafor are what solidified this victory for the Wizards. Until Wall and Nene are back and healthy, or in Nene’s case as healthy as he can possibly be, it will take efforts like the one from last night and a few lucky bounces going our way for the Wizards to continue to notch victories under their collective belts.
2) What do we need to do to win a second game?

Willis: Continue to have some bounces go our way for once. The clutch shots toward the end of the game started going in for the Wizards, and that really helped out a bunch. Washington finally went on one of those runs that end up being insurmountable for an opposing team, and that 16 point run was what decided things. The starter still have to play better, as Ariza is not going to be 6-of-9 every game for Washington. Someone has to continue to emerge as a scorer outside of Kevin Seraphin. We’re looking at you, Bradley Beal.

That being said, the bench should simply continue their strong play with Jordan Crawford igniting the offense. I said in the offseason that his ideal role is a sixth man who can command a second unit and beat up on “scrubs”, and that’s what Crawford does. Portland’s second unit was horrible, and the Wizards beat them down.

Bohlin: Compete. The fact of the matter is that right now the Wizards don’t have the talent necessary to win NBA games with any sort of consistency. When a team is lacking in that area their best chance to be successful lies in the amount of effort they put towards their goal, victory. Until the Wizards get John Wall and Nene back for the long haul this team is going to have to outwork every opponent they face if they want to continue to enjoy the feeling that was felt throughout the Verizon Center by the Wizards faithful last night.

3) What is your starting five and why?

Willis: Beal, Crawford, Singleton, Nene, and Okafor

I don’t care if this means the Wizards don’t have a point guard, but I think these five give the Wizards the best chance to win and score points. Nene can dish out to Bradley Beal at the point, Crawford, at times, has proven himself to be a talented passer, and Singleton is a defensive presence that can guard wing players effectively. Meanwhile, Okafor takes up space. You could argue that Seraphin should be in there, but Nene and him are very similar in nature and would not really mesh that well.

I keep Beal in there as a starter because he simply has to get minutes. Relegating him to the bench with scant minutes and pummeling his already fragile confidence is the wrong thing to do. Eventually, he’s going to figure out how to play the game, and that comes with experience. No, we don’t want to give him the experience of losing, but when Washington won that game he really had nothing to do with it. His play was poor, and he got benched. He should still start.

Bohlin:

1)      Shaun Livingston

2)      Jordan Crawford

3)      Trevor Ariza

4)      Kevin Seraphin

5)      Emeka Okafor

The rotation for the Wizards has been a point of contention for a couple of weeks now. Randy Wittman has tried just about every possible combination imaginable for this team through the first 13 games and until last night not a single one of them had proven to be effective enough to win a game. If I making the lineups for Washington night in and night out this is how I would start each and every game until Wall and Nene return.

With Livingston running the offense players such as Jordan Crawford have the opportunity to do what they do best, score, because Livingston’s first inclination on offense is to create for others as A.J. Price’s first inclination has seemed to lie closer to finding his own shot.

Jordan Crawford, to this point, has been our most reliable offensive weapon which is saying a lot considering his reputation of being a volume shooter. His best role with this team will inevitably be coming off the bench as the team’s sixth man, however, with the Wizards performing as woefully on offense as they have been early on this season his inclusion into the starting lineup had to take place.

Ariza and Okafor need to start as they are our best two options at their respective positions and also the fact that they are two of the highest paid players on the team which, more times than not (Sorry Rashard Lewis), equates to big minutes and many starts over the course of 82 games.

Kevin Seraphin is my last choice as a starter. Seraphin has proven that the offensive display he put on at times in the Olympics was no fluke. His baby hook shot move in the paint has been largely unstoppable this season as Seraphin has become highly effective when taking that shot. He has earned this distinction with his play so far and will likely continue to see big minutes as the Wizards ease Nene back from his foot injury.

4) MVP and LVP so far

Willis: MVP is spelled Nene in my book. He’s our best player when healthy, and Washington plays considerably better the second he touches the floor. Without him, we’re still winless. I know he only had a modest 6 points and 6 rebounds last game, but his impact is felt in so many more ways than just in the box score.

I think back to when he actually manned the point and dribbled the ball up court (in a very unsightly manner, however), and didn’t turn the ball over. He scooped up a rebound, couldn’t find anyone right away, but took the ball up the court to eventually find a man. It’s not even a huge deal, but it’s just the smooth, calm, do-whatever-it-takes manner in which he plays that gives the Wizards a big boost of confidence.

LVP – Jan Vesely for so many reasons. He’s not very good and his PER of 4 shows that. Outside of Nene, Crawford, and Okafor, everyone else has been below average on the PER scale (15 is average, everyone aside from those three is below it). Beal and Price sit around 10, Ariza and Singleton around 13, but Vesely? Four. FOUR. He’s done nothing to convince me that he won’t be out of the league in another year or two when his contract runs out, mostly because I can’t think of anything he can do particularly well aside from rebound.

His complete lack of an offensive game from anywhere on the court outside of dunking tells me that he really, really needs to find a mentor or be relegated to trying to deflect tip ins at the end of games (as he did against Portland last night).

Bohlin: MVP: Jordan Crawford

Could you imagine how uncompetitive this team would be were it not for Jordan Crawford? Honestly, I don’t want to and am glad it is not something that is worthy of discussion. The shooting guard from Xavier has been exactly what the Wizards need him to be so far as this team has struggled to put points on the board without him on the floor. It is very likely that Crawford’s role will change as the Wizards get closer to full health but he will remain a much needed weapon nonetheless.

LVP: Jan Vesely

As much as I want him to be good for this team the progression just hasn’t been there. David Aldridge said it best on Tony Kornheiser’s radio show in DC that Jan simply “Can’t play”. Aldridge went on to say how he doesn’t feel that Vesely will last five years in the league. That is the number six overall pick we are talking about here people. In last night’s win over Portland, Jan played a total of 0.2 seconds…and that was just so he could guard the Blazers last ditch inbound pass from half court. To say Jan has been a disappointment thus far isn’t doing justice to the word disappointment. He may turn it all around and prove Aldridge, Kornheiser, myself and thousands of other Wizards fans who feel the same way wrong, and I legitimately hope he does. I just don’t see it happening for him or this franchise any time soon. It’s really hard to take up for a guy who has five more fouls on the season than he does total points and is 3-13 from the foul line.

5.)  Bradley Beal – What gives?

Willis: He can’t shoot, that’s what gives. That is largely based on the fact that he has little confidence in himself, so that will hopefully change. But he takes a lot of midrange jumpers, and those are suicide for a rookie scorer in the NBA. That’s a veteran shot, not one for the young bucks like Beal. His tendency to be inanimate on the offensive end kills him overall, and he simply has to work more on being aggressive (while playing smart at the same time).

On a positive note, he can rebound relatively well for his position, and he knows how to move the ball around and not have the offense die as soon as he touches it. But until he can start to contribute on the offensive end, which is what he was brought in to do, his play will draw the ire of Wizards fans who watch Damian Lillard, Brandon Knight, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shine.

Heck, of all the rookies playing right now, Beal has been far less impressive than almost all off them. Harrison Barnes is starting to get it, Andre Drummond has been surprisingly effective, John Henson has done the same thing. Of the first ten picks, only Terrence Ross and Austin Rivers have had less of an impact. That’s not good.

Bohlin: It has been an up and down start to young Bradley Beal’s NBA career. Being shoved into the spotlight without your starting point guard, John Wall, and one of the league’s best big men in creating space for shooters, Nene, has put him behind the 8 ball. Unlike Vesely, Bradley Beal has shown flashes of the skillset that many fans saw during his time at Florida. I said it over the summer before we drafted Beal that he will benefit more so than any other player on our roster from playing with Wall and Nene. The addition of those two to the lineup will provide Bradley with more opportunities to take open shots while not being the main focal point of the opposing defense. I still think Bradley Beal is going to be a very effective NBA player for a long time, it’s far too early to pass judgment on him otherwise.

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The Teams: Washington Wizards (0-12) vs Portland Trail Blazers (6-8)

The Time: 7 PM

The Place: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.

The History: The overall series nod goes to the Trail Blazers, who have a slim 52-49 advantage in the win column.

Here we go again. The Washington Wizards look to end their season-long losing streak in the final game of their three-game home stand against the Blazers. Coming off a brutal 118-92 drubbing by the San Antonio Spurs, Washington has had over 24 hours to brood and get over a loss that typified the season as a whole. Well, the Wizards are going to need some luck to break through that win/loss barrier tonight, and considering how little they have had of it this season, tonight feels like they may catch a break.

The Blazers are on a two game losing streak, having dropped road games to the Brooklyn Nets and the equally-as-woeful-as-the-Wizards Detroit Pistons. They have been playing poor defense and are relying entirely too heavily on All-Star forward/center LaMarcus Aldridge to win games. As a result, they have lost three of their last four. Their rookie phenom Damian Lillard has also had his fair share of struggles shooting the ball as well, leading to the Blazers being under .500 for the first time this season. So will the Wizards get a win tonight?

Why you should watch: Damian Lillard is an absolute animal

Damian Lillard, the guy the Wizards passed up on with the third pick in the draft, was not expected to be this good, this soon. Averaging 19 points, 6 assists, and shooting 40% from long range isn’t something you would expect from a rookie point guard, but here we are. Lillard has set the league on fire and is a major reason why the Blazers have any wins at all. When he’s on, they are a formidable Western Conference team with a deadly in and out game. Without him, they are a poor shooting unit that has no real scoring options outside of LaMarcus Aldridge.

Lillard, as I said before, has had some issues with knocking down shots over the last two games. He’s only hit eight of his last 30 shots, and unsurprisingly the Blazers have lost both matches. He hasn’t been particularly good on the road this season, shooting 41% from the field (as opposed to his 47% mark at home), which bodes well for the Wizards. Slowing him down will be a difficult task given how well he excels at the pick-and-roll offense, but it isn’t impossible. Brandon Knight of the Detroit Pistons gave him work, and on the defensive end he hasn’t shown that he is elite by any stretch.

Take some time out of your night to watch him go to work, because you’ll be amazed at how talented he is.

Keys to the game/Storylines

1.) Bradley Beal’s shooting has to improve

Bradley Beal is frustrating a lot of fans (myself included) with his lack of aggressiveness on the offensive end of things. Far too often, he settles for midrange jumpers and three point shots instead of being as aggressive as his natural ability say he should be. For rookie shooters, the midrange jumper is a very, very common mistake. In college, they were able to get that kind of shot off with ease, and for whatever reason believe that they made a lot of them when in reality the midrange jumper is a veteran’s move.

Young players should be aggressive going to the hoop and trying to draw fouls, neither of which Beal is doing. Given that he’s shooting 32% from the floor on the season and hitting almost 90% of his free throws, statistically he should be begging to get to the line. The Wizards need him to be aggressive tonight and make some easy shots in order to get out of this funk that he’s been in.

2.) Stopping LaMarcus Aldridge

Part of the reason why the Blazers lost their game against Brooklyn was because Aldridge wasn’t playing due to a sore back. His numbers are down across the board from last year, but barely. He’s still averaging 20 points and 8 rebounds a game, which will suit the Blazers just fine. On his return against Detroit he had 32 points and 10 rebounds, which signals that he should be just fine against Washington. Okafor is going to have to play some tough nosed defense in order to contain Aldridge this game, other wise this game will get cracked open quickly.

Prediction: Wizards match up somewhat adequately with the Blazers, and thus take a homer’s victory against a team on a cold streak.

Wizards win 99-97

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The Teams: Charlotte Bobcats (6-5) @ Washington Wizards (0-10)

The Time: 7 PM

The Location: Verizon Center. Washington, D.C.

TV, Radio: CSNW, 106.7 FM

The History: The Wizards had previously won their last five contests against the Bobcats, until November 13th of this year when they dropped a game 92-76.

The Washington Wizards are hurting this year, having started the season with ten straight losses and no victories. For the past few seasons, a game against the Charlotte Bobcats would have been a remedy for a losing streak of epic proportions. Unfortunately this year, that simply isn’t the case. The Bobcats come into the District having won five of their last seven games of basketball. The only thing these two teams have in common is that they both dropped their last game to the Atlanta Hawks, with the Bobcats falling 101-91 at home yesterday.

Aside from that loss, the Bobcats have been nothing but trouble for teams, with an impressive victory against the Memphis Grizzlies last week establishing them as a much improved team. Head coach Mike Dunlap has them playing very good basketball on the defensive end, and passable offensive play as well. Rookie small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is as advertised, averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds on the year. Thing is, MKG isn’t their only weapon, as the Bobcats have six players scoring in double figures this year. Ramon Sessions, the traveling suitcase of a player, has finally made a home for himself in Charlotte, where he is an early candidate for Sixth Man of the Year with his play off the bench.

Needless to say, this game won’t be easy for the Wizards.

Keys to the Game/Storylines

1.) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs Bradley Beal

No, these two players do not play the same position, but they were the second and third pick in the previous NBA draft and as such their histories will be closely linked. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has, as I previously stated, been a stud this year for the Bobcats. He is one of their best players, and has scored in double figures in 8 of their 11 games this season. Against the Hawks last night, MKG scored only 11 point, but he also impacted the game in ways that many players can’t. He also grabbed seven rebounds, but he blocked four shots as well, giving him 18 on the season. For a small forward, that number is absurd.

Meanwhile, Beal has been good but not really great. His 33% shooting from the field ranks him as the second worst rookie who is playing 15 minutes or more this year. His poor play recently relegated him to the bench, but only for one game. He started against the Hawks, but shot poorly and finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. He marred that performance with five turnovers, however, and he really hurt the team with those.

Both players are young, but so far it is glaringly apparent that one has been far more impressive than the other.

2.) Nene-Nene, Nene-Nene, Hey-hey hey, good try!

Nene debuted for the Wizards in the same fashion that he did after last year’s midseason trade: impressively. In 20 minutes of play against the Hawks, Nene scored 12 points off the bench by getting to the line numerous times. His presence and talent level was something the Wizards sorely missed, and it is clear that even in diminished health Mr. Hilario will be a boon for the Wizards front court.

With the poor performance of Emeka Okafor, Nene is a major upgrade who can sop up Okafor’s minutes that he doesn’t try. Given how much better of a scorer Nene is, the Wizards should see a major advantage in that department down low, which is something that they haven’t done well this season.
Take note, however. Nene only had one rebound last game, which is a very unusual number for a big man. His rebounding issues have been documented, so hopefully that is an aberration.

Prediction: The Wizards finally get a win with a rested, relatively healthy team who came off a tough loss where they played well. Bradley Beal rises to the occasion and outshines the person taken ahead of him in the draft.

90-88 Washington

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The Teams: Washington Wizards (0-9) vs Atlanta Hawks (5-4)

The Time: 7:30 PM

The Location: Phillips Arena. Atlanta, Georgia

The Coaches: Randy Wittman (18-40 with Wizards) and Larry Drew (89-68 with Hawks)

The History: In 274 games, the Wizards have lost to the Hawks more than they’ve won, being down 141-133 all time. They’ve played a lot over the years and this is one of their closer series all time, so it’s typically a good ball game every time these two teams step onto the court.

Why you should watch: Nene is coming back!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Halleeeeeelujaaaaah! With reports coming out that Nene is expected to be in action for the first time Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks, Wizards fans breathe a collective sigh of relief. Well, what’s left of the fan base that has been bludgeoned nine times to the face this year through loss after loss. But now, Nene is back to bolster a frontcourt that has been shredded game after game in the paint and has been unable to score too much there either.

Nene brings both, and a bit of rebounding prowess that might offset the inability of a certain French forward, and with them he also brings the promise of shattering that unsightly goose egg in the win column. Last season when the Wizards traded for Nene, they got considerably better as a direct result. They weren’t blowing teams out, of course, but they were actually winning. If he can provide similar results, Wizards fans will embrace him with open arms.
Key Points and Storylines

1.) What impact will Nene have?

Look, who knows what version of Nene we’re going to be getting. That has to be said, because he has yet to play a single game of basketball during this short NBA season, and it may take him awhile to get the hang of things again. He’s a fantastic player, but it might take time for him to get back into the swing of things. If he can make a quick recovery, then this team will be all the better for it. Conversely, if he looks slow and rushed back onto the court, then it will show and the Wizards may still be better served waiting more time for him to come back.

Nene is going to be asked to rebound and defend a lot since Okafor is in the dog house (really, the entire team is in the dog house). I’m just not sure he can do that right away…

2.) Can the Wizards shoot better?

Shooting under 40% as a team for the entire season (dead last in the NBA) is a recipe for an 0-9 season. The Wizards have followed that recipe to a T, and if they were wise, would do their best to deviate a bit from that course. Without better shooting, Washington will continue to pile up losses. Having one of the most efficient shooters/scorers in the NBA today in Nene will be a huge boon for getting that number above 40%, but that won’t change the fact that the Wizards take bad shots.

Early in the shot clock three pointers by A.J. Price and Jordan Crawford don’t help a lot, and Bradley Beal going 4-12 (as he did last game) has to change. Taking good shots is directly correlated to how many points this team has been scoring, which at 89 per game is last in the NBA as well. Changing that number, given the somewhat passable defense they’ve been playing, might secure a victory for Washington.

Prediction: Wizards win a close one against their divisional rival Atlanta Hawks ON THE ROAD in Nene’s return.

99-98 Wizards

 

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Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jason Colenda, former Villanova men’s basketball player and current contributor to the DC Dime.

First Impressions: the Bradley Beal Edition

The Wizards gladly selected the 19 year old University of Florida freshman shooting guard, Bradley Beal, with our 3rd overall selection in this year’s draft. Beal had been highly regarded since his prep years in St. Louis, his effortless jump shot even being compared to Jesus Shuttlesworth himself. Watching Beal in college, I saw a kid who clearly had NBA-potential: he had a smooth offensive game and an NBA-ready body, but he never asserted his will over the inferior talent that he faced in the SEC. Granted, I don’t watch a ton of SEC hoops (I can’t suffer it the way Bohlin does), so I did not allow this limited sample size to affect my opinion. I remained hopeful Beal could put his obvious physical gifts to work and blossom into the type of player the experts all predicted. During summer league, which is no place to be making serious judgments about a player, #3 showed glimpses of what he could do, but certainly did not have the coming out party as say, Damian Lillard enjoyed. I knew playing alongside John Wall would definitely help a player like Beal flourish, with Wall’s drive and dish style opening the floor for a spot-up shooter to get open looks. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to see the duo the front office has invested in as the franchise’s future play meaningful minutes together. However, through the first several games I’ve seen some things from the number three pick both positive and negative that I’d like to highlight.

Game 1 @ Cleveland Cavaliers

A matchup with a young and dynamic backcourt duo in Cleveland that he’ll see for years to come was Beal’s introduction to the NBA. I was looking forward to seeing the matchup with fellow rookie and 4th pick Dion Waiters. With very different styles of play, Waiters more of a defensive bulldog and offensive slasher, the matchup was going to be good to get a look at what Bradley’s made of. Pride is definitely on the line matching up with a player that was drafted above you, so Waiter’s was definitely going to come out swinging. It was a competitive game, but the matchup, and the game, went to Waiters and the Cavaliers. Dion was the more aggressive of the two, and Beal struggled to find his range, scoring 8 points in his first 22 minutes in the NBA on 2-8 shooting including 2-4 from three. He also contributed 3 assists and 3 boards, and overall it was not a bad first effort.  Beal rarely forced action and let the game come to him, but I would like to see Bradley look for his own offense and not be afraid to attack off the dribble for pull-ups or dishes (as he’s shown he’s a willing passer). It’s his first game and he’s trying to fit into the NBA and with his Wizards teammates, but he also needs to realize he’s our best offensive option right now. I’d love to see Beal show some alpha-dog swagger and take over. Hopefully the home opener brings a more aggressive #3.

Game 2: Boston Celtics (home opener)

Does the loud ovation and adoration of the Phone Booth get you up for a game, Brad? Or how about matching up against one of the NBA’s most successful franchises, the Boston Celtics, for the first time? Going in, I was really excited to see how he reacts in the first big-game situation in his young career. Unfortunately, Beal came out and put forward a first performance for the home crowd that is one he is going to want to forget. He finished without a score from the field, and struggled with the rest of his game because of it. Courtney Lee blanketed him most of the night, focused on limiting his touches and in general making it an uncomfortable night for the rookie. Again, Beal never forced his own action and was too passive; but tonight, he showed some very poor body language because of his inability to get going. Even if his offense isn’t hitting, Beal needs to stay aggressive and involved on both ends of the floor. It’s tough in the NBA, and points won’t come easy. I want to see Beal take the pressure head-on, but he’s been entirely too passive and has struggled because of it. Tonight was a tough early lesson against one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, and let’s hope Beal bounces back and is more comfortable in his second shot at the Celtics.

Game 3: @ Boston Celtics

Bradley had a tough night against the Celtics in DC a few nights ago, and he’s looking to bounce back tonight. He came out on the attack for the first time in his young career, running the floor hard in transition to get a few open looks. It also helped that we consistently ran sets for the young guard to make sure he stayed involved. Still his shot did not fall most of the night, but I did not see it affect his performance in other aspects of his game. In fact, he showed some real confidence in himself late in the game sticking a go-ahead three in a hotly contested ball game. Beal finished the night playing a career high 38 minutes in the overtime contest, scoring 16 points on 6-15 shooting (including 3-8 from 3). The shot total was his most attempts in these three games and that’s a positive sign in my opinion. Starting shooting guards NEED to be shooting 15-20 times a night; they’re normally a team’s top scoring threat and Beal absolutely is that for the Wizards. Our offense looked best tonight when we were running sets to get Bradley looks, and he has already demonstrated a mature understanding that just because a play is run for you doesn’t mean you have to be the one shooting the ball. Brad’s done a good job taking what the defense gives him, which will continue to lead to open looks for his teammates as opponents focus their defensive attention on him. Beal has clearly been the focal point of the Celtic defensive preparation, that much was clear by the way they hounded him off the ball, and this will continue during his time in Washington. Tonight was the first time I began to see him embrace that challenge and meet it with an attacking mindset, truly encouraging growth for our young franchise guard.

Game 4: Milwaukee Bucks

Friday night saw yet another matchup against a dynamic backcourt, as Brendan Jennings, Monta Ellis and the Bucks visited the nation’s capital. Another tough matchup for Beal, as it pits him against one of the game’s great one-way players in scorer deluxe Ellis. Admittedly, this was the first game of the year I missed; my colleagues here at the Dime and I punted working for the day and instead were in attendance at the beautiful Barclay’s Center to cover Maryland v. Kentucky for our Terrapin Station site. However, we kept up on Gamecast (thanks technology!) and were disappointed to see an early lead fizzle into a fourth straight defeat. The silver-lining, of course, was Beal’s first 20 point game as a pro. In 34 minutes, Beal had his most efficient game going 7-14 from the floor at 8-8 from the line. He seems to be getting better each night out, and let’s hope Bradley can build on the last two performances and continue his early development

In his first outings as a pro Beal has continued to find her comfort-zone in the NBA game and his performances have improved each night out. He’s done nothing but show signs of why the Wizards were so high on his physical skills and potential, and at only 19 years old, if he if can continue to sharpen his mental approach he will hopefully continue to realize his immense potential. I look forward to seeing Beal on the receiving end of some Wall dimes in the near future, but I know the challenge of truly being the defenses focal point will only help him in his development.

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The Teams: Washington Wizards (0-3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (2-1)

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Place: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.

The History: The Wizards are 77-110 All-Time against the Milwaukee Bucks, going 1-4 last year. The Wizards won their last matchup against them, however, 121-112 at home.


Why you should watch: 
The Wizards could very well get their first win at home!

Since Washington started off terribly against the Boston Celtics at home last Saturday, they lost their home opener as a result. Bradley Beal and the rest of the starters were playing terribly, and were yanked in favor of Kevin Seraphin and Jordan Crawford. The two of them managed (albeit not singlehandedly) to cut a 16 point deficit to tie the game late, but the Wizards couldn’t finish the Celtics off. Now they take on the Milwaukee Bucks, who are a shaky 2-1, and have a very good chance to take this one.

Led by PG Brandon Jennings and SG Monta Ellis, the Bucks are an offensive heavy team that doesn’t really play a whole lot of defense. Their front court is less than daunting, with Samuel Dalambert not necessarily being the most dangerous threat down low, and Larry Sanders just coming into his own in the league. Basically, this means the Wizards are going to have a chance to score a lot of points, and have as good a chance as ever to pick up a win here.

Key Points and Storylines

1.) Bradley Beal vs. Monta Ellis

Bradley Beal finally started to take more than ten shots last game against the Celtics, much to the delight of Wizards fans, and the results were promising. With 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting, Beal wasn’t shooting well but it was a major improvement over his previous game, where he didn’t make a single shot (his only two points coming off free throws). Now he has a chance to go up against a player who plays worse defense than a misplaced traffic cone in Monta Ellis, so he could be primed for a big game.

Monta is a fantastic scorer, to be sure. He takes a lot of shots and defending him is a hassle given his quickness and ability to get the basket on slashes. But at a generous 6’2 (in Strength Shoes), Ellis is far from what one could consider a defensive strap. Other shooting guards routinely have career nights against this guy, and though I’m not suggesting Beal can do that, I do think he can have a pretty monster game.

If the Wizards can run a lot of plays through Beal (including some screens to get open from three), he may win this matchup against Ellis. Or rather, he could have a game that will whet the appetites of impatient Wizards fans who want results now.

2.) Kevin Seraphin’s scoring streak

Seraphin has been nothing short of impressive for the last 16 games, of which he has scored 10 or more points in each of those games. On the year, Seraphin is averaging 17.5 points and 8 rebounds per game, and has clearly benefitted from his experiences during the Olympics this summer. He is playing with a confidence that is making fans forget that the guy he backs up (Nene) hasn’t played a game this year. Tonight he goes up against Larry Sanders, who has just as notably stepped his game up this season, but will be facing a real test tonight against a very hot forward.

Seraphin’s success has come from his newfound jumper, which is clearing up space for him down low to pull off some finesse moves. If he can continue to knock down 15 foot set shots on a consistent basis, the Seraphin will continue to have monster games against forwards that aren’t as athletic as he is. It’s simple math.

Prediction

The Wizards should very well win this game tonight for their first win of the season. They have been playing really good basketball lately, and while they haven’t been able to close games out against the Celtics, they are due for one. Since the Bucks can’t really play defense all that well, I’m going with the Wizards, who have actually played relatively well on defense.

Wizards win, 105-98

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Alright, so the Washington Wizards lost a tough one against the Boston Celtics last night and now start the season 0-3 for the second straight year. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. Obviously it would have been nice to begin the season on a strong note, but once again the Wizards accidentally put diesel fuel in their unleaded tank before to season, which means we can’t start the car until it goes it goes into the repair shop.

Yes, it was a painful 100-94 overtime loss, and one in which was in the Wizards reach the entire time, but it was far from a bad loss. There were definitively some positives attached to this one that the Wizards can hopefully use to build upon for Saturday’s game against Milwaukee to hopefully break this streak. The tendency after a loss is to look at all the negatives, and while I will chew out some of the Wizards here, I’m going to also take a look at a few of the good takeaways from this game.

1.) Statistically, the Washington Wizards are doing a lot of things right

Anytime you can stay on par with a team rebounding (44 for both teams), have about the same amount of assists (the Wizards had 25, the Celtics 26) and steals, and have more blocks, you really just can’t complain about effort levels. The Wizards are actually doing a decent job on the boards (save for the first game when Varejao grabbed more balls than a ballboy at Wimbeldon) and distributing the ball effectively in spite of not having their lead man, John Wall. Nene is unhealthy and Wall is out, yet the Wizards are not slipping too far.

When those guys return from injury, Washington will most assuredly improve in two categories and perhaps that will lead to a few more wins at the end of the day. Everyone is fighting for rebounds, and while Okafor has been downright awful so far for Washington (his worst game coming against Boston yesterday), I think he can improve in the long run with another power forward on the court like Nene who helps with rebounding.

2.) Bradley Beal showed signs of “getting it”

Yesterday, after hearing some grumblings of Beal crying after his second loss of the season, a lot of Wizards fans were ready to start ragging on the kid (on Twitter someone actually said, “He probably listens to a lot of Cher”) for being mentally soft. I didn’t exactly do that, as it is common knowledge that NBA players are, in fact, made of the same flesh and bone as the average Joe and I hate to break it to you, but everyone gets overly emotional sometimes. That being said, yesterday may have been an eye opener for Beal in terms of learning how to play shooting guard for the Wizards.

Beal scored a career high 16 points last night on 6-of-15 shooting from the field (3-of-8 from long range) and looked far, far more assertive than in his last two games. He was openly looking to shoot the ball, which is great because it is what he was brought in here to do. No, he’s not shooting 50% from the floor and his deep ball still needs some work, but last night was the first sign that Beal may actually be coming into his own as a player.

The good thing about Beal is that in other aspects of the game he is already getting it. His four rebounds and three assists are the second time this season Beal has had at least three rebounds and three assists in the same game. So he’s still figuring things out offensively as a young player, that’s fine. If he is actually contributing in other ways outside of just shooting the ball, I can live with that from a young guy.

3.) A.J. Price can’t always shoot, but he is filling in alright in other areas

The good thing about A.J. Price? He isn’t a shoot-first ask questions later type of point guard. Price isn’t a pure passer like Rondo, but he does try to get his teammates involved enough so that the offense isn’t stagnant. Price now has two games with 6 or more assists under his belt, and even though those numbers aren’t astronomical, I’m pleased with the results on that end. That number could be higher if Washington was capable of hitting shots on a more consistent basis, so it might actually get better the more he and the Wizards play. Not to mention the fact that Price has grabbed 4 and 5 rebounds in the last two games, which isn’t too shabby for a point guard.
The bad thing about A.J. Price? He shoots even though he can’t. Last night he shot 6-of-13 from the floor, which is his best on the season, but by and large Price has been a pretty poor shooter. On the season he has made 11-of-37 shots for 30% in total (ugh). The biggest problem with him is that he takes way too many three pointers for a guy who isn’t very good at shooting them. Price has attempted 22 three’s on the season, making only 30% of them. It might get better, but then it might get worse, too. His averages for his career would imply that he will not be effective at three pointers for the whole season. If he is launching early in the shot clock three pointers, the Wizards are going to have a hard time winning.

4.) The Wizards need to get to the line more often

This one is pretty simple. Last night, Washington only shot 7 free throws the entire game. It’s hard to win when your team isn’t taking advantage of free points. They benefit everyone by pacing the game, and can get opponents in foul trouble that can take them out of their comfort zone. The reason for the poor performance at getting to the line falls on a few players, but mainly Kevin Seraphin and Bradley Beal.

Beal should be getting to the line a whole lot more, honestly. It would improve his shooting numbers and make his life a whole lot easier by giving him more space. Creating contact is a learned skill, but it’s one in which Beal should learn quickly. He is athletic enough (I think) to get to the rack at will and his body is NBA ready to absorb that contact while staying healthy. It is just a matter of execution.

As for Seraphin, while I love his new found jump shot, I would also love if he used that soft touch down low to bang a little bit and force people to foul him. He could convert a lot of and-1′s that way, and get opposing big men off the floor quickly. His soft touch is dangerous from down low, and he should really keep improving as the season goes along at using it.

5.) Stop playing Ariza…

Sometimes you just want to sit Ariza down and say, “So what is it, exactly, that you do here?” I’m still trying to figure out what he does other than miss shots and supposedly play stingy defense. Last night’s 1-of-6 performance now brings his shooting percentage to 22% on the year, having not shot better than 40% (basically the Mendoza line of basketball) thus far. Either cut his minutes down and start Singleton or relegate him to the bench as a situational defensive starter. He doesn’t do anything on the court, and I’m not sure why he is in the starting lineup unless Wittman is some guru who knows something we don’t.

Other than Ariza, the starting lineup is fine as-is.

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Washington @ Boston, 7:30 PM

TV: CSNW

RADIO: 980AM

RECORD: Washington (0-2), Boston (1-2)

Why you should watch: Grudge Match

This second game has an almost college-like feel to it, as the Wizards play the Celtics for the second time in five days to finish up this home-home matchup. The first game was marred by Washington’s slow start in the first quarter, where nothing was going in and the defensive stops were similarly not happening. The starters have gotten off to a bad start in both games this season, and that has to change in order for the Wizards to win.

Luckily, Kevin Seraphin and Jordan Crawford came off the bench to help alleviate some of the listlessness of the starting five. Seraphin didn’t miss a shot until midway through the third quarter, and he finished with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting, and chipped in 7 rebounds as well. Crawford, meanwhile, had 21 points on an efficient shooting night but rolled his ankle during the game and hasn’t really practiced all week since.

For the Wizards to win, they are going to need Crawford healthy, but more importantly they are going to need more out of their starters. That includes the young Bradley Beal, who failed to make a shot in his home opener. Without question, Beal is going to want to make up for that again and try to win the matchup against Courtney Lee tonight. Through two games Ariza has been a complete nonfactor, and Okafor simply cannot provide the offense expected of him (though defensively he hasn’t been entirely brutal). Adding Nene would help, but he is still listed as questionable.

Underlying Storylines

1.) Bradley Beal’s Zeal

As I stated before, Bradley Beal was downright awful in his home opener. He got some lawn chairs, a portable TV, and coronas and just posted up at the three point line all night expecting others to do the work for him. Well, that strategy didn’t work (and it rarely does against the Celtics), so it’s back to the drawing board for Beal. His struggles can be blamed on his youth, but at the same time the #3 pick isn’t paid to be youthful; he is paid to score points and be aggressive.

Beal can get back on track, but Courtney Lee is a tough guy to go up against. His tendencies are to not leave his man and play him tough. Beal should be constantly moving without the ball to create open looks for himself and force Lee to always be on the move. Finding open lanes is going to be, really, the only time he will get to score. Let’s hope he doesn’t put up another dud, or he may find himself sopping up bench minutes (and I really, don’t think he’s a bench player).

2.) Will Jordan Crawford be healthy?

That’s a big one. Jordan Crawford was the biggest reason the Wizards were even in the game last Saturday, and if his ankle is not right it could spell doom for Washington. His spark off the bench is one that I was calling for in the offseason simply because he is, as my colleague stated, “a microwave.” He can heat up at the push of a button, or he can go cold after an amount of time. Either way, it looks great when he comes in and carries the load.

He hasn’t practiced, but I can imagine the Wizards only did that as a precautionary move so as not to further stress the injury. If Crawford can’t cut to the basket as well on drives and has to rely on his outside shooting, Washington is going to hurt.

Prediction

Washington goes to the Garden and slaps a Boston team upside the head for a revenge win thanks to stronger performances by their starters. Beal finally has his breakout game and the Wizards take the W on the road.
100-97 Washington

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Bradley Beal – US Presswire

Knowing that Doc Rivers typically prepares his team adequately on defense, I figured that Bradley Beal would face a stiff test early in his career against the Celtics. Boston is no longer the best defensive team in the league, as they were when Garnett first arrived (age has slowed them down), but they are still very challenging for offensive players and provide fantastic help defense. They also have Courtney Lee, who was tasked with keeping Bradley Beal in check for the majority of the game. And, well, he basically did that and then some.

I followed Beal the entire game trying to get a good look at what he does right, and what he does wrong on both the offensive and defensive ends. Needless to say, Bradley Beal’s home opener will be one that he would like to forget for a long time, as it may very well go down as one of the worst games of his career. He looked lost most of the time on the court, and failed to make his mark on the game (which actually ended up getting him benched for large parts of the game), with a final stat line of 2 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assists on 0-for-5 shooting in 21:52 minutes of play. We’ll start by breaking down his offensive performance.

OFFENSE

Offensively the biggest problem I saw with Beal was his lack of aggression. For someone who has such a smooth stroke, he was amazingly passive during this game, and never established himself early on offensively. I understand playing within the flow of the game could ultimately help the team more, but Beal failed to attempt a shot until the 5 minute mark of the first quarter, where he bricked a jumper that was lightly contested. It seemed like he just wanted to get his first shot up, as it looked a little hurried.

Rushed shots will happen when any player spends the majority of the game hanging out by the three point line doing absolutely nothing. Beal was not brought in to be a spot up shooter, but that’s exactly how he was playing on Saturday night. On essentially every possession, Beal stood in the same spot and didn’t move at all. Courtney Lee actually left him a few times because he was such a non-factor in the offense. When he was open, A.J. Price didn’t exactly find him, but that isn’t fault. The two times that Beal did get the ball at the three point line, he missed the shots (although in fairness, one barely rimmed out). So his experiment at being J.J. Redick for a game failed.

The only real positive play he made on the offensive end, as much as that pains me to say, is when he aggressively drove to the basket and drew contact for two free throws early in the third quarter. It was notable only because Beal did what he could and should have done all game long, which is get to the rack. He tried the same thing once again, but missed pretty badly when the foul wasn’t called.

Now, part of his offensive struggles were due to the fact that Courtney Lee (and occasionally Rajon Rondo) were guarding him. Rondo is a solid defender, but Lee is a pretty darn good one, and it showed against Beal. Most of the time Lee just pushed Beal back to the three point line, but that was about it. Beal never pressed the issue on offense and made Lee’s job pretty easy. If he can’t get more aggressive against the Celtics next game, the results will be the exact same. The Celtics are difficult in that they are physical on the defensive end, and even if you beat one defender, their help defense is second to very few teams, so there is another player to beat as well. Beal is going to have to learn that quickly, and adjust accordingly. Hanging out at the three point line is far from what he was brought in to do.

DEFENSE

Defensively, Bradley Beal should be considered lucky that Courtney Lee was not having the best offensive performance, because he fared pretty poorly overall against him. Courtney Lee was 0-for-4 on three point shots, but that wasn’t because of tight defense by Beal. It was because he missed open, uncontested shots. The Celtics ball movement confused Beal a lot, as he was caught ball watching a lot on the court. Lee came off screens and found himself wide open on the three point line at least twice. Beal tried to recover and contest the shot, but by the time he jumped to get into Lee’s face, the ball was already in the air.

On another possession, Lee spun off Beal on the low block, spun off him and went straight to the rack for a layup. There should have been some help defense there, but Beal got taken to task relatively quickly. It was a veteran move by Lee, and there isn’t much Beal could do except try to stay in front of him. That didn’t happen, though. Beal isn’t slow, but he also isn’t fast enough to hug the guy he is defending so closely. His lateral movement stuck out as being less than stellar.

Overall, when Beal was out of the game the Celtics actually fared worse on offense. Beal is a young player, and becoming a world class defender doesn’t happen overnight. Luckily, everything he did was correctable, and it didn’t stem from a lack of effort on his part. He will learn eventually not to ball watch, and will certainly do a better job at staying in front of his opponents and fighting through screens (which the Celtics run plenty of). But for his second game, at least, Beal gets a D on defense.

Game Grade

F.

Beal failed to do anything offensively or defensively, and while an F may seem harsh, he was one of the worst players on the court and deserved the grade. He and Ariza looked pretty bad out there, and as a result they got benched for large parts of the game. Hopefully against the Celtics next game, Beal will perform a whole lot better.

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